The deer tick, a known carrier of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, has established a presence for the first time in eastern Nebraska, namely in Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders Counties, health officials said Tuesday.
The presence of the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick, means it is possible for people to contract Lyme disease in the state if they’re bitten by infected ticks.
In an alert sent Tuesday, state health officials said laboratory tests are underway to determine whether the collected ticks carry the bacteria that cause Lyme or other known tick-borne pathogens.
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Nebraska health officials to date have not confirmed any cases of Lyme disease that have originated in the state. In Tuesday’s alert, they encouraged health care providers to step up their vigilance.
Typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash that forms a bull’s-eye pattern, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme disease can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics. Most people recover completely, although some may be left with joint pain that can be treated with medication. If not treated, however, the infection can spread and affect joints, hearing and the nervous system.
Confirmation of the tick’s presence is based on surveillance by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Residents of the three counties need to watch for the tick and take precautions.
“They have to have this on their radar screen: We have another tick that showed up,” said Roberto Cortinas of the University of Nebraska School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The problem is that the deer tick is very small and hard to spot — nymphs are dark and about the size of a sesame seed, and adults are slightly larger. Both can carry the bacteria, and both can bite people. The nymphs generally are found in the spring and should have peaked, Cortinas said. Adults should emerge in late August and early September.
Deer ticks typically are found in wooded areas, he said, as were the ones found recently in the state. People should check themselves, family members and pets after they’ve visited such areas.
Those who believe that they’ve been exposed to ticks also should take a shower. Pets that have been exposed should be bathed.
Other ways to avoid tick bites:
- Avoid tall grass and shrubs
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in light colors
- Wear shoes that cover feet, not sandals
- Tuck pant legs into socks and shirts into pants
- Apply an approved repellent, the same ones used for mosquitoes
Now that the ticks are in the state, Cortinas said, they could spread, but entomologists don’t know for sure.
Plans for additional tick surveillance are being made, state health officials said.
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