Prevent Lyme disease with common sense
As Department of Natural Resources (DNR) area supervisor for the Parks and Trails system, Martin Torgerson's job often takes him into wooded areas. As an avid outdoorsman, he is commonly in the forest. Even his house is in the woods.
Even though Torgerson has never been infected with Lyme disease, he remains continually aware of the tick-borne disease.
"I spend a lot of time in the woods," said Torgerson. "I've picked hundreds of ticks off my dog and many off myself.
"My wife and I have three kids, so we're picking ticks off them all the time. We are very wary of ticks, very alert. Some of the ticks are so small; you're lucky to find them."
Admittedly no technical expert on ticks, Torgerson recommends visiting the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) or other informational websites for details on tick-related diseases, a map of high-risk tick areas in Minnesota, and what to do if you receive a deer tick bite.
DNR protocol for tick prevention and treatment is firmly set in place for employees. Standard policy includes wearing light-colored clothing to make tick sighting easier, wearing clothing that deters ticks from reaching the skin (like long sleeve shirts, long pants, hats), use of tick repellant, and being diligent about doing tick checks at the end of every work day.
"Pine and Carlton counties are high risk areas," said Torgerson. "We're very aware of ticks. Right now the deer ticks are out in full force."
Gaiters are a common item of clothing used to deter ticks reaching skin on the legs. Commonly available at outdoor sports shops, they come in different lengths and in a variety of fabrics.
"Gaiters wrap your pant close to your leg at the ankle so ticks can't crawl up the inside of your pants," said Torgerson. "Well, they deter them. You can't really prevent a tick from reaching your skin. That's why tick checks are so important."
Tick repellents are another way to dissuade ticks from crawling on your clothing.
"If you treat gaiters with tick repellant, that also helps," said Torgerson. "We recommend using tick spray containing DEET or permethrin. Permethrin is not meant for skin. It is meant for clothing.
"DNR policy is to use at least two items of personal protective equipment (PPE) for protection against ticks when working in this high risk area. That's just normal."
Standard procedure for DNR employees who suspect Lyme disease is to see a physician for testing and, if tested positive, to receive treatment. However, there are challenges to recognizing a deer tick bite.
"According to the MDH website, not everybody is affected the same," said Torgerson. "Not everybody has the bullseye rash."
Even if someone suspects a deer tick bite due to other known symptoms including fatigue or flu-like symptoms, seeking diagnosis or treatment may still present a challenge.
"A lot of people are so busy they think they don't have time to be sick," said Torgerson. "They may be busy parents, or they're caring for others, or working a lot."
However, ignoring Lyme disease will not make it go away.
"You have to take the time to get yourself checked out," said Torgerson, "because, if you get ill, you won't be able to help those people you normally care for."
To some, all the talk about Lyme disease may seem paranoiac. To others, there is not enough awareness about the effects of Lyme.
"Sometimes it's only those who have had Lyme disease, or at least have known somebody who's had issues from ticks, who understand that this is a danger that can affect you for the rest of your life," said Torgerson.
"Again, I'm not an expert, but if you research the MDH website, or other informational websites, you see that not everybody reacts the same. In some cases, there can be nervous system issues or other complications if Lyme goes untreated."
So where is the balance between cautiously aware and paranoid?
"Especially here in Minnesota (a high risk tick area), I don't want to say this lightly," said Torgerson, "but if I were to do an analogy, you hear about people from out of state who think about wolves and bears and all the creatures we have in our woods. For them, they're scary. For us, we look out our patio or the end of our driveway and we see that sort of thing all the time.
"On the other hand, I have cousins in Arizona who shake scorpions out of their shoes. I'm not used to that. Leave me the bears and the wolves. They deal with tarantulas, scorpions and poisonous snakes. They're used to it. They take measures, precautions.
"We need to be wary of ticks. They're out there. I am not alarmed but I know we have to take precautions.
"I can say this. If you're feeling ill, if you've been somewhere that you know there is a high concentrated tick area, or you pull ticks off yourself and you feel ill, don't be someone who ignores that. Go in right away and get it checked out."
Following are resources for more detailed information on Lyme disease:
http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/lyme/highrisk.pdf for a map of the high-risk areas
http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/dtopics/tickborne/index.html for tick related diseases
http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/dtopics/tickborne/prevention.html for prevention and minimizing risk of tick bites