Beware of ticks: Carrier of Lyme disease thrives in lakes country
FARGO -- Now that Memorial Day weekend has arrived and summer has unofficially begun, those taking to the woods should remember: Beware of ticks.
That's especially true when visiting the Minnesota lakes country, where deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease and other infections, thrive.
Just ask Kelly Larson.
The Fargo man has contracted Lyme disease -- not once, but twice.
His first infection, in 1995, was the worst.
Larson developed classic symptoms that just wouldn't go away.
"I was fatigued," he said. "I had headaches. I really had no idea what was happening."
Those symptoms were more than annoying. He had a summer internship that required him to drive long distances, and found himself fighting to stay awake behind the wheel.
At the urging of family members, Larson went to the doctor. He's grateful he did.
When the doctor learned he had been in the Detroit Lakes, Minn., area mountain biking, he was an obvious risk for Lyme disease.
He also bore the classic circular red rash resembling a bulls-eye that is a sign of the infection. The diagnosis was confirmed by a blood test.
Treatment with antibiotics in time eliminated the symptoms, and Larson made a full recovery.
But, left untreated for prolonged times, Lyme disease can cause serious problems, said Dr. Dubert Gurrero, an infectious disease physician at Sanford Health.
In severe cases, the infection can cause heart and nervous system problems, including brain or spinal swelling.
Damage to the joints, nerves and brain can develop months or years after the initial infection.
"It's not common to have those complications," Gurrero said, "but they do happen."
Besides being mindful of symptoms -- and seeing a doctor if they occur -- people should do their best to avoid tick bites, especially when in wooded areas of Minnesota, he added.
Keys to prevention include:
- Wear protective clothing, including socks, long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Light-colored clothing helps dark ticks stand out.
- Use insect repellant containing DEET as directed.
"Basically, be more vigilant as far as checking yourself," Gurrero said.
A tick bite does not guarantee an infection, so frequent checks can prevent the disease, even if a tick has become briefly embedded. It takes two or three days for a deer tick to become engorged.
As Larson can attest, even those who are attuned to the risks can fall prey.
About six years ago, during a summer when he was camping in the Itasca State Park area of Minnesota, Larson contracted his second bout of Lyme disease.
His headaches weren't as severe or frequent, but he had a faint rash in the shape of a bulls-eye. A trip to the doctor confirmed he had Lyme.
"I really didn't feel an impact," he said. A close family friend, who got Lyme disease in the late 1990s, wasn't so lucky, and suffered hearing loss, poor mobility from joint pain, and extreme fatigue and headaches.
"I'm very, very thankful," Larson said.