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updated: 6/27/2013 8:46 PM

Lyme disease increases in Lake County

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Lake County Health Department

The Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center is cautioning residents to be particularly aware of ticks this summer as Lyme disease cases are becoming more prevalent in Lake County. Ten years ago in 2003, six cases were reported, while in 2012, 17 cases were reported. Between 2003 and 2012, 100 cases of the illness were confirmed in the area.

Thus far this year, six cases have been reported. While most cases in the past were diagnosed in people with a history of travel outside of Lake County, most cases this year have been attributed to tick exposure here.

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"These days it is more common for people to be bitten by deer ticks, the ticks that carry Lyme disease, in their backyards and common neighborhood areas," said Tony Beltran, the Health Department's Executive Director. "Since surveys confirmed the presence of deer ticks in the county in 2007, it is good to take precautions against ticks whether you are walking in a wooded area or pulling weeds in your garden."

Symptoms of Lyme disease may include "bull's-eye" rashes or lesions around the site of the bite (generally seven to 14 days after the tick has consumed a blood meal), accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and/or joint aches. The disease is brought on by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted by a deer tick that attaches to a human's skin after the person brushes against a plant where the tick is waiting. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but typically goes under-reported because instead of the tell-tale rash, individuals may experience only the flu-like symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms seven days or more after a tick bite, you should contact your physician. Left untreated, the illness can spread to the musculoskeletal system, heart and nervous system.

Lyme disease cannot be passed from person-to-person. The likelihood of contracting Lyme disease is small if a deer tick is attached for less than 36 hours, but individuals also must be cognizant that tiny deer tick nymphs, about the size of a pencil point, can carry Lyme disease.

Here are some precautions:

* Keep your grass mowed, keep weeds cut around your home, and keep grass near playground equipment short.

* Install a wood chip or gravel barrier between lawns and wooded or tall grass areas.

* Do not brush against plants outdoors and walk in the center of paths through parks and forest preserves.

* Minimize wood piles attractive to small animals that can carry ticks.

* Wear light-colored, protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, boots or sturdy shoes and a head covering. Tuck pant cuffs in socks and tuck in shirt tails.

* Apply insect repellent containing DEET (30 percent or less) to clothes or exposed skin (except the face). Wash treated skin after coming indoors and supervise children while using repellents.

* Check your pets for ticks if they go outdoors.

* When checking for ticks, pay extra attention to the hair, the neck, behind the ears and the groin.

* Remove ticks with a tweezers by grabbing the head of the insect closest to the skin and pulling upward with slow, even pressure. Do not squeeze the tick's body. Do not twist or pull the tick quickly as the mouth parts could break off and remain in the skin.

Once a tick is removed, disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water. Make note of the date you removed the tick, save it for identification in case you become ill, and put it in a bag in your freezer.

For more information about ticks and how to identify them, visit the Lake County Health Department's Web site at: health.lakecountyil.gov.

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