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Tick-borne illness strikes first Mich. victim since ’09

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

State health officials have confirmed the first case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in Michigan since 2009, Jennifer Eisner, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday.

The tick-borne illness, which affected a child in Cass County earlier this month, is potentially fatal, even if the person who contracted it was otherwise healthy. The child, whose age Eisner declined to share, was hospitalized with the illness but has been released.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever has symptoms that include stomach pain and vomiting. A rash often follows, consisting of flat, pink, non-itchy spots on a person’s wrists, forearms and ankles, and sometimes reach the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. Some never will develop the rash, the state says.

In a statement, Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of the state health department, said the best way to prevent Rocky Mountain spotted fever is to avoid tick bites. Eisner recommends staying on the walking path of trails, doing a body check for ticks, and showering immediately after being in the woods.

There is treatment for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Eisner said, and it’s more effective if the illness is diagnosed sooner rather than later. That treatment is in the form of an antibiotic called doxycycline.

The fever itself can be transmitted by several ticks, the state says, including the American dog tick — the most common tick in Michigan — and the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick.

jdickson@detroitnews.com

How to prevent tick bites

  • Avoiding tick-infested areas. This is especially important in the spring and summer in Michigan. If you are in tick infested areas, walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter at trail edges. Dogs and cats can come into contact with ticks outdoors and bring them into the home, so using tick prevention products on pets is recommended.
  • Using insect repellent. Apply repellent containing DEET (20-30 percent) or Picaridin on exposed skin. You can also treat clothes (especially pants, socks, and shoes) with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact or buy clothes that are pre-treated. Permethrin can also be used on tents and some camping gear. Do not use permethrin directly on skin. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying any repellents.
  • Bathing or showering. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. Ticks can get a ride indoors on your clothes. After being outdoors, dry clothing should be tumble dried in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. The clothes should be warm and completely dry when finished.
  • Performing daily tick checks. Always check for ticks on yourself and your animals after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Inspect all body surfaces carefully, and remove attached ticks with tweezers. Grasp the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Do not be alarmed if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.

Source: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services