Washtenaw finds first case of ticks with Lyme disease

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Washtenaw County health officials are reporting what they believe to be the first case of a Lyme disease infection that originated there.

“For the first time, Washtenaw County Public Health has evidence that a Washtenaw resident was likely infected with Lyme disease without leaving the county,” officials wrote in a recent statement. “Cases of Lyme disease occur annually among Washtenaw residents; until now, local cases have been related to travel to west Michigan or other states where infested tick populations are present.”

Although no ticks from Washtenaw County have tested positive for Lyme disease, health officials are urging residents to watch out.

“Evidence that Lyme disease is spreading locally is new for Washtenaw County,” says Laura Bauman, epidemiology manager with Washtenaw County Public Health. “The likelihood of infection is probably still low in our area. But, we’ll know more as our local health care providers continue to identify and report cases to us. Residents can also help by submitting ticks for testing.”

The recent finding is also prompting the county and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to start identifying areas where the blacklegged tick might reside there.

“During the peak tick activity season, staff and collaborators from Michigan universities will start collecting, identifying and testing ticks from wooded and natural areas,” county authorities said in a statement.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and spread to people and animals through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Depending on the infection, symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue, aching muscles or joints and a skin rash at the site of the tick bite that resembles a bull’s eye or target, Washtenaw County health officials said. Untreated infections may spread to the joints, heart and nervous system. Many cases of Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics.

Michigan’s first reported human case of Lyme disease was in 1985, but “cases have now been reported in both the upper and lower peninsula and are increasing,” MDHHS officials said on the agency’s website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted confirmed cases statewide jumped from 51 in 2007 to 114 in 2013. Department of Natural Resources and others who study Michigan’s tick population have predicted that ticks, especially those bearing Borrelia burgdorferi, are likely to swell from northern and western counties then into Metro Detroit within the next decade.

Among the tips to reduce the risk of infection in warmer months when ticks are most active, Washtenaw authorities ask residents to use repellents such as DEET or Permethrin; shower after being outdoors; and avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.

Washtenaw County officials also are encouraging residents to submit ticks for identification. Washtenaw County Public Health has a limited number of tick submission kits available.

The state has a program to identify ticks and test for Lyme disease. No fee is charged if the tick was found on a person. Testing information is available online.