GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you’re heading up north or outdoors during the long Memorial Day weekend, watch out for ticks. The Michigan Lyme Disease Association says they’ve received a lot of reports of bites this year and this season could be the worst they’ve seen in a decade.
Lyme disease is the most well-known illness spread by ticks. In 2015, Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Kalamazoo counties all experienced an increase in reported cases of Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease 2015 cases
Kent County: 14 cases
Ottawa County: 8 cases
Kalamazoo County: 7 cases
Muskegon County: 4 cases
For the last 21 years, a Grand Rapids woman has lived with the crippling consequences of a tick bite. Now she spends her life spreading awareness to stop Lyme disease from hurting others.
Carrie Nielsen was 16 years old on a summer trip when a tick carrying Lyme disease latched onto her.
“My friends and I were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what is on my leg?’ Sick. It was on the back of my leg. We took a stick and were digging it out. It wouldn’t flick off. It was huge because it probably had been feeding for several days.”
After that, Nielsen started suffering multiple health issues.
“Every morning I would have like morning sickness. Before school, I would want to throw up. All of a sudden, I couldn’t walk because my ankle wouldn’t work,” she recounted.
It took doctors a year and many misdiagnoses before they found the Lyme antibody in her system.
Nielsen says she was relieved until she found out more.
“I hear it now, I’m scared for that person (diagnosed with Lyme disease.) Because if you don’t treat it right away, it could be a lifetime of suffering,” she said.
And that’s what it has been for Nielsen.
“My daughter just recently asked if I was going to be healthy or if I was going to have the disease for the rest of my life, and that was tough,” she said.
Nielsen is now on the board of the Michigan Lyme Disease Association and focused on raising awareness about the risk of ticks.
“I just pray no one has to go through what I did,” she added.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Health officials say people in Michigan should watch out for the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, which can become infected with Lyme disease from a sickened rodent or bird it bites.
Most humans are bit by a tick in the nymph stage; it then grows by feeding on you. While they feed, an infected tick can pass on Lyme disease to its host.
The best way to avoid tickborne illness is avoid tick prone areas, including overgrown grass, brush and leaf litter. Keep your yard mowed.
Repellent with DEET or Picaridin is recommended. Lemon or eucalyptus oil may als help. Clothes can also be treated with permethrin, but it shouldn’t be applied directly to your skin.
Wear light colored clothing if possible, to make spotting a tick easier. Long sleeved shirts, pants and closed toed shoes are recommended, as is tucking in shirts and pants so ticks have no easy way to make it onto your skin.
Lastly, always check yourself and animals for ticks after going outside. Washing clothes in hot water and drying on high heat will kill any ticks remaining on clothing.
While prevention is key, it’s not a guarantee. Nielsen was bitten a second time by a tick last year. Fortunately, that one did not carry Lyme disease.
IF YOU FIND A TICK
Health officials say if you find a tick on your body, remove it quickly. The best method is slip tweezers, grasp the tick firmly and as close to the skin as possible and pull it off in a steady motion. Cleanse the area with antiseptic.
Don’t use peppermint oil or a flame, which can irritate the tick and possible cause it to regurgitate whatever disease it has into you.
You should then monitor yourself for symptoms of illness, including fever, rash, muscle or joint aches. If you experience any health issues, contact your doctor.
Nielsen recommends getting any ticks you remove from your body tested to see if they are carrying Lyme disease. Those reports can help researchers determine where infected ticks are often found.