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Special Report: The Tick and the Bite

Updated: 07/10/2014 9:32 AM
Created: 07/09/2014 10:00 PM WDIO.com
By: Briggs LeSavage
blesavage@wdio.com

Minnesota saw a record number of Lyme disease cases in 2013, and those cases are expected to continue rising this year, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

While 1,431 Lyme disease cases were reported across the state last year, Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Johan Bakken of St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth said the cause of the increase isn’t clear.

"It's been fairly stable in the last decade except in the last year or two,” Bakken said. “There's been an increase in (Lyme disease) cases, and we're not quite sure what to attribute that to.”

He said a likely reason could be that ticks are spreading across the region in ways they never have before.

"The Provincial Health Department in Manitoba has established that there are now stable tick populations on the south shore of Lake Winnipeg, which 10 years ago was totally unheard of,” Bakken said.

Chris Balzer works with the Cloquet Chapter of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and said tick hosts play a role in tick expansion. He also said almost any mammal can play host to a tick.

"Especially animals that move long distances, which is one concern with people's pets just because they can move into areas where literally there aren't deer ticks or black legged ticks and then fall off. That could help the spread."

Bakken said it could also be urban expansion into wooded areas and bird migration that is helping to distribute the ticks and their diseases farther than before. He said it is also important to remember other tick-borne illnesses the deer tick can carry.

“Anaplasmosis being the second most common and Babesiosis now having become a reportable illness in the state of Minnesota,” Bakken said. “We’re seeing numbers 600 to 700 cases a year of babesiosis where before we didn’t have any information about that illness.”

He said Lyme disease and two other illnesses, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis, can also be transmitted from a deer tick bite.

“So if you’re striking unlucky, you may end up having all three active infections at the very same time,” Bakken said.

The deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick, is most responsible for carrying these diseases. The Minnesota Department of Health reporter that the highest risk for exposure to disease carrying ticks is typically from mid-May through mid-July.  Bakken said that is also when the majority of Lyme disease cases are contracted and diagnosed.

“Unfortunately, it also correlates with school is out and people go on vacation, and the weather’s nicest, so we make efforts to go into tick endemic areas on our camping trip or whatever we do,” Bakken said.

Charlotte Copiskey of Saginaw, Minn. has suffered from Lyme disease since the mid-1990s and it is a life-altering disease.

"Don't wait because then it becomes chronic and then you have more problems. It gets into your brain it gets into your vision ….There's nothing that Lyme doesn't affect."

We’ll hear more from Charlotte about her battle with Lyme disease Thursday at 10 p.m. on WDIO. 

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