Tick and Lyme disease is on the rise, infecting dogs and people. What preventative measures can be taken to keep people and their pets safe?
Lyme Disease is an inflammatory disease characterized at first by a rash, headache, fever, and chills, and later by possible arthritis and neurological and cardiac disorders. It is caused by bacteria that are transmitted by ticks.
Steve Dale, a certified animal behavior consultant (CABC) and host of WGN Radio’s Pet World, as well as two national radio shows, created the StopLyme public awareness campaign with the support of the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Global Lyme Alliance.
Although StopLyme.com began earlier this year, the wheels were set in motion about two years ago when people were picketing outside of WGN on Michigan Avenue.
Dale explained that in 2014 people were marching with signs that read “Down with Lyme Disease” and “Lyme Disease Is Awful,” and he wondered why they were concerned about Lyme disease in Chicago. The protesters said during the news break that there’s not enough money from the government to study it, and people were very sick and even dying as a result of chronic Lyme. Then they showed him pictures and videos on their phones, mostly of young people who were too sick to participate in the march.
“I remember seeing images of a woman who was a mountain climber in her 20s, and now she could barely walk,” said Dale. He invited two chosen representatives to join him in the studio. “I asked the representatives about co-infection, which is Lyme with another tick disease infected with it, and I asked them about re-infection, where you get infected with Lyme once and then again and again and again.”
The representatives asked if Dale was a doctor or a veterinarian, and he told them that he’s attended veterinary conferences about tick disease, and has interviewed some of the most knowledgeable Veterinary Parasitologists.
Next, they mentioned an instance where a dog was identified with Lyme disease as well as the dog owner.
A few weeks later Dale attended a conference and a man told him that both of his parents were infected with Lyme, and their dog was previously diagnosed months ago with the disease.
“I thought if only they paid attention to their dog being diagnosed,” said Dale. “That gave me the idea if there’s a dog – someone is usually on the other end of that leash. If a dog is diagnosed, which is easy to do in veterinary medicine with several types of tick disease including Lyme, that it’s conceivable because they have the same environment.”
Dale explained that if you and your dog are in the same woods, same park or same backyard with many ticks you are at more risk of exposure. There are more ticks today than ever before, but nobody knows why for sure, he added.
Dale said the abundance of deer and the ability of deer to transport the ticks is one contributing factor, along with the abundance of wildlife in general, which could be everything from turkey to mice. A variety of ticks are found in many forest preserves around Highland Park and other suburbs on the North Shore.
But dogs are not to be blamed for this widespread disease.
“Tick disease cannot be spread directly from dogs to people,” said Dale. “It’s not contagious. You get it from ticks. Where a dog is going to be diagnosed with Lyme, people are going to be diagnosed with Lyme.”
Dale emphasized that sharing the same environment as dogs may increase the odds of contracting tick and Lyme disease.
“It made me think that if we had a way in which the medical community and the veterinary community could share information and talk to one another about Lyme disease we’d be better off.”
According to Dale, many doctors don’t think about testing people for tick disease. He recently interviewed Dr. Grace Bransford, who had Lyme disease, on his radio program.
“She said if she wasn’t a veterinarian odds are she wouldn’t have even thought about finally convincing her doctor to test for Lyme,” Dale noted. “Sometimes people get this identifiable bulls-eye circle rash and sometimes they don’t.”
Unfortunately, symptoms can also be masked in dogs.
“People might feel achy or have flu-like symptoms, but dogs can’t tell us how they feel and they can’t call in sick to work.,” said Dale. “Older dogs might become arthritic, a symptom of Lyme disease, which can easily be mistaken for suffering from old age.”
Dale explained that we can do more to protect our dogs than we can ourselves against not only Lyme, but tick disease in general. There are all sorts of really good spot-on products that you put on a dog’s back or have the dog eat. He recommends Bravecto chewable, a new product to prevent ticks and fleas for 12 weeks of protection while most other products only last about a month.
“Bravecto is safe and kills ticks fast, as it takes many hours or even days for the tick to get the infected organism into the dog,” he said. “There also is a vaccine for dogs, but nothing yet for people.”
People and dogs are not out of the woods for contracting tick and Lyme disease in the fall.
“Deer ticks are not only active in the spring, there will be another period of activity for them in the fall,” said Leslie Piotrowski, communications manager of the Lake County Health Department. She shared some important statistics in a press release from the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center:
“Once considered a rare illness in Lake County, Lyme disease is becoming more common in the area. The average annual number of reported probable and confirmed cases of this disease increased steadily from 6.7 cases between 2003-2005 to 30.3 cases between 2012-2015.”
The Health Department in conjunction with North Park University and the Lake County Forest Preserve collects and tests samples for Lyme and tick diseases on an annual basis. The department launched a “Fight the Bite” educational campaign in May to increase awareness about the dangers associated with ticks.
The Health Department offers the following guidelines to protect residents from exposure to ticks:
Tips for reducing tick habitat around your home:
● Clear leaf litter under trees, and keep the ground clean under bird feeders
Keep grass near playground equipment short.
Install a wood chip or gravel barrier between lawns and wooded and tall grass areas.
Minimize wood piles as these are attractive to small mammals such as mice, which can carry ticks.
Tips for reducing exposure to ticks:
- Avoid tick habitat by staying on trails when in forest preserves and parks.
- Wear light-colored, protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, boots or sturdy shoes, and a head covering. Tuck trouser cuffs in socks and tuck in shirt tails.
- Apply insect repellent containing DEET primarily to clothes. Apply repellent sparingly to exposed skin. Do not apply directly to the face. Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors.
- Use repellents containing permethrin to treat clothes, but not skin.
- Walk in the center of trails so plants do not brush against you.
- Check yourself, your children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks.
- If your pets spend time outdoors, regularly check them for ticks, too.
- Promptly remove any ticks to help prevent infection.Visit these important links to learn more about protecting your dogs and your family: StopLyme.com and www.fightthebitenow.com.