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Lyme Disease Affects People and Pets

The Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association and the Minnesota Medical Association join together to increase public awareness about Lyme disease, a disease which affects both humans and animals.

Lyme disease is a multi-faceted illness caused by bacteria and passed to humans or animals by a tick bite. The disease was first reported in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut and named after this location. Recognized in Minnesota in 1980, this disease has become an important health concern for residents and visitors as only a very small tick known as the deer tick or bear tick carries the bacteria.

Deer ticks have none of the white markings seen on other wood ticks. They are small ticks only one-quarter the size of other ticks. An adult deer tick is about the size of a sesame seed and is black and red in color. The deer ticks live in wooded and grassy areas and are now reported throughout most of Minnesota.

A variety of symptoms appear in Lyme disease. In people, the most characteristic early symptom is a circular red skin rash with a clear area in the center at the site of the tick bite. The main sign in animals is arthritis which can include fever, depression, lameness, reluctance to move or a stiff, painful gait. If you believe you have the symptoms of Lyme disease, call your physician. If you believe your dog or other animals have symptoms, call your veterinarian.

Currently, a vaccine to protect against this disease is only available for dogs. However, antibiotics have proven effective in pets, other animals and people. Treatment with antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease helps to prevent later stages of the disease when arthritis, heart and/or nervous system complications can occur.

Physicians and veterinarians diagnose the disease based on clinical symptoms and potential exposure to the tick which causes Lyme disease. A blood test for the organism may be utilized to aid in the diagnosis of Lyme disease. It is important to know the disease is not directly transmissible between humans and animals.

Avoiding tick bites will prevent the disease, but may not always be possible. People can tuck their pant legs into their socks to lower the chance of the ticks crawling onto the skin. Check your skin and clothing for ticks periodically while camping, hiking, or playing in wooded, grassy areas. Be sure to check your pets, too. Your veterinarian can provide tick control measures for pets.

To remove a tick, use a small tweezers and grasp as close to the skin as possible and pull with a slow, steady pressure. Avoid jerking motions. Do not use your fingers to crush. Dispose of the ticks by flushing down the toilet or immersing in a jar of rubbing alcohol. Although it is generally not necessary to treat tick bites with antibiotics, you should watch for any symptoms which could indicate Lyme disease.

Don't give deer ticks the opportunity of spoiling your enjoyment of the great outdoors. Knowing about Lyme disease allows you to enjoy your summer activities and the ability of dealing with a deer tick bite if it occurs.

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