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Ticks, tick-borne illnesses on the rise in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has seen double the amount of people, from 2020 to 2021, contracting Lyme disease.

MICHIGAN, USA — With the weather warming up, it's that time of year again to keep an eye out for ticks when you head outdoors. Health officials are warning that ticks and tick-borne illnesses are on the rise. 

"They're gross to look at, but the ticks will feed. They feed on your blood," Carrie Nielsen, secretary with the Michigan Lyme Disease Association, says. "Oftentimes (tick bites go) unnoticed or untreated. Ticks embed and you don't feel them. You can actually have them feeding for three to five days, and you have no idea that they're even there."

Nielsen says tick checks are the most important step to take after spending time outdoors, by checking over your body carefully. Ticks can embed anywhere, but they particularly like spots near your knees, waistline, ears and hairline.

"Also being aware when you're outdoors, things you can do like tucking your pants into your socks, so they're not able to get in as well," she says. "Wearing bug spray with DEET will help keep the ticks away too."

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She knows personally how crucial it is to be careful around ticks. She's had Lyme disease now for 26 years. She says her health has been affected ever since then.

"I had everything from Bell's Palsy from Lyme disease to spinal meningitis," Nielsen says. "I ended up in the hospital and didn't even know who my parents were. So it's a very serious illness. It can attack your heart, which it's done for me."

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says ticks and tick-borne illnesses are on the rise. The department has seen double the amount of people, from 2020 to 2021, contracting Lyme disease.  

"We did see a significant increase in our confirmed and probable Lyme disease cases from 450 to almost 900," Epidemiologist Kim Signs says.

If you're bitten, tweezers are the best way to remove the bug. Health officials say to look out for a fever, rash and flu-like symptoms to see if you've been infected. You can find more proper tick identification and removal tips on the Michigan Lyme Disease Association's website. 

"Unfortunately, with Lyme disease, you look fine. So it's hard for people to understand or see that, you know, you are truly sick and suffering with this disease," Nielsen says. "A lot of people think after a couple of weeks of diet of antibiotics that you're going to be cured. It's just not that simple. That's why it's key to get treated."

It is also recommended to spray your yard for ticks if you can, and be sure to check your dogs and cats for ticks after you take them outside. 

Nielsen says the MLDA is involved in education and research projects about Lyme disease, and earlier this month, they raised $9,400 to continue their work. The organization often works with Michigan State University. 

The Kent County Health Department released Thursday a new podcast episode about mosquitoes and ticks. 

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