GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you’re heading outdoors during the long Memorial Day weekend, watch out for ticks. The blacklegged (deer) tick is on the rise in Northeast Ohio, moving westward from Pennsylvania.
Health officials say it could be the worst year for Lyme disease, the most well-known illness spread by ticks. According to the Ohio Department of Health, the rise in these ticks has resulted in a 360 percent increase of human Lyme disease cases in Ohio since 2010.
For the last 21 years, a woman in Michigan has been living 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 from 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 said 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.”
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 said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, can become infected with Lyme disease from a sickened rodent or bird it bites.
Most humans are bitten 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.
Ticks can also be carried by pets, so tick prevention products for dogs and cats is recommended.
Repellent with DEET or Picaridin is recommended. Lemon or eucalyptus oil may also 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 toe 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 left 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.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FIND A TICK
Health officials say if you find a tick on your body, remove it quickly. The best method is with 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 flame, which can irritate the tick and possibly cause it to regurgitate whatever disease it has into you.
You should then monitor yourself for symptoms of illness, including fever, rash, and 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.