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Expect a bad year for bugs: Buried ticks give local man Lyme’s Disease four times

Josh Tucker of DL knows first-hand how dangerous deer ticks can be: He has had four cases of Lyme’s Disease. DL NEWSPAPERS/Paula Quam

They’re blood-sucking little creatures full of bacteria and diseases that want to stick their heads into your skin. It’s tick season, and true to what experts predicted, it’s already turning out to be an active one.

“I was just out today and we were walking through the Aquatic Management area, and ticks were pretty thick,” said Nathan Olson with the Minnesota DNR in Detroit Lakes.

Olson says he pulled 10 ticks off his body and countless others out of the seat of his pickup. Most were wood ticks, a few deer ticks.

“We’re expecting a bigger tick year than usual, so at the DNR we’re trying to increase our awareness on ticks with things like training, and tick mirrors in the bathrooms,” said Olson, who says tick-related illnesses are the No. 1 workmen’s comp issue for DNR employees.

Lyme’s disease, carried by about 25 percent of the deer ticks in the nymphal stage and about 50 percent of the adult deer ticks, is a real risk in Becker County.

18-year-old Josh Tucker is all too familiar with the disease, as he’s been treated for it four times.

The first and worst time was the summer of 2009 when he was 14.

“I woke up and there was a bump on my head, so I had my mom take a look at it,” said Tucker.

“And it was like this gushy, blistery thing on his head, so I picked it,” said mom, Michelle Butler, who took her son in to the hospital.

“But they looked at it and didn’t think much of it, so they sent us home,” said Butler, who took him in a couple of more times in the next weeks for headaches.

“But they said, oh, he’s probably just dehydrated or it’s just this or that…” said Butler, who kept treating her son for headaches, but took him back in again when they kept getting worse.

That doctor ordered a Lyme’s test, which came back positive.

“They called and said, ‘You’ve got to get him in here to the emergency room so we can do a spinal tap on him because he could have spinal meningitis because the tick has been in his head so long,’” said Butler, who was not exactly happy with how the situation had rolled out.

For the next 21 days, Butler brought her sick son into the emergency room so that he could receive medicine through the pic line in his arm.

For Tucker, his summer was shot.

“I didn’t do anything except lay there,” said the normally enthusiastic fisherman, “My head hurt, my legs ached, I was tired…”

The following summer, lightning struck twice.

“I thought maybe he was just being Mr. Anxiety when he came up and said, ‘I think I have another tick in my head,’ so I looked and it was another bubble,” said Butler, who got a little taste of deja vou.

“We brought him back in, they tested him for Lyme’s, and yep, he had it,” said Butler.

Twice since then, Tucker has found tick bumps in his head (indicating the tick is still in there, burrowed deep into the tissue) and been treated for Lyme’s. “Yeah, I’m getting kind of sick of it,” he laughed.

Butler now keeps a bottle of spray by the door with a mixture of essential oils and vinegar to try to keep the ticks at bay.

What to do

The tick visits have already started for Dr. Steven Glunberg, who mans the walk-in clinic at Sanford Health in Detroit Lakes.

“When I came here a year ago from Fargo-Moorhead, I was amazed at the frequency of deer tick exposures here – just a 60 mile difference,” said Glunberg, who says despite the obvious fact that it’s more wooded in Becker County, he says the number of Lyme’s cases and other tick-borne illnesses does seem to be slowly “ticking” up.

The Department of Health put out an alert talking about tick-borne illnesses turning to near record levels in 2013, with Lyme’s Disease cases in Minnesota being at 1,431, up from 1,293 in 2010.

Anaplasmosis and babesiosis accounted for another nearly 700 additional deer tick-related illnesses.

Glunberg says there are a couple of common misconceptions that people seem to have about tick bits.

“If people find a tick that has been attached for less than 36 hours, we don’t use antibiotics,” said Glunberg, who says in the past, doctors have over-treated with antibiotics.

Now, the recommendation for ticks attached less time than that is just to wash the area with soap and water, and while it’s good idea to keep an eye on the bite area for big changes, little ones are no cause for alarm.

“Another point of confusion for people is that sometimes they’ll get worried when there is swelling or a dime-sized redness around the area, but that’s a normal allergic skin reaction to the bacteria in the saliva of the tick,” said Glunberg, who says a rash that continues to grow is something to be seen for.

Early signs of Lyme’s also includes headaches, high fevers and general achiness.

Glunberg says these symptoms can be seen anywhere from a couple days after a deer tick bite to 30 days.

He adds that while people in the lakes area seem to be pretty in-tuned with what a deer tick looks like, he still advises people to bring the tick in with them for analysis if they’re unsure.

The common wood tick does not bring with it significant risk for diseases.