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Ticking timebomb

Experts say Lyme disease cases are at near record level

By Bob Freund

freund@postbulletin.com

It’s almost summer, and a great time for a walk in the woods. Take the walk, but also be tick-savvy, state health officials say.

Late spring and early summer are the prime times when blacklegged, or deer, ticks are active and biting. They carry and transmit Lyme disease, an infection that has been increasing in Minnesota and can become serious.

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Last year was a near-record year for Lyme disease in the state, with 914 cases reported. That’s almost the same as in 2005 and "in the same ballpark" as the record, said Dave Neitzel, a state epidemiologist specializing in tick and mosquito-born diseases.

Nationally, reported cases of Lyme disease have more than doubled since 1991, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report said 93 percent of reported cases were in 10 states, including Minnesota.

In Minnesota nearly 7,500 cases have been confirmed in the past 20 years, nearly 3,000 of those in the past three years.

In southeastern Minnesota, the most cases of Lyme disease occurred in Houston County, with 22, and Winona, with 20. Olmsted had 14, Fillmore, eight, and Goodhue seven cases.

"We know that ticks are being seen in places where they haven’t been seen before," Neitzel said. For example, Lyme disease-carrying ticks have been found in eastern Olmsted County, he said, and deer ticks have been located in Fillmore County.

Hikers and others in the woods, which is predominately where the ticks live, should be especially alert for very small ticks. Those in the immature "nymph" stage can be so small that they are not readily felt on the skin. They even could be mistaken for a freckle.

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