Department of Public Health

West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease

Education and Prevention is the key to reducing West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease.

Lyme Disease & West Nile Virus

What is Lyme Disease? The Lyme disease bacterium normally lives in mice, squirrels and other small animals.

How is Lyme Disease Spread? It is transmitted to humans through the bites of certain species of ticks. In the northeastern and north-central United States, the blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) transmits Lyme disease.

What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease? The Lyme disease bacterium can infect several parts of the body, producing different symptoms at different times. Not all patients with Lyme disease will have all symptoms, and many of the symptoms can occur with other diseases as well.

The first sign of infection is usually a circular rash. This rash occurs in approximately 70-80% of infected persons and begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3-30 days. The center of the rash may clear as it enlarges, resulting in a bull’s-eye appearance. It may be warm but is not usually painful. Patients also experience symptoms of fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. In some cases, these may be the only symptoms of infection.

Untreated, the infection may spread to other parts of the body within a few days to weeks, producing an array of discrete symptoms. These include loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face, severe headaches and neck stiffness, shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, heart palpitations, dizziness, and pain that moves from joint to joint. Many of these symptoms will resolve, even without treatment.

After several months, approximately 60% of patients with untreated infection will begin to have intermittent bouts of arthritis, with severe joint pain and swelling. Large joints are most often effected, particularly the knees. In addition, up to 5% of untreated patients may develop chronic neurological complaints months to years after infection. These include shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and problems with concentration and short term memory.

Is there a cure for Lyme Disease? If you believe you may have Lyme disease, it is important that you consult your health care provider for proper diagnosis. Most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics, especially if treatment is begun early in the course of illness. However, a small percentage of patients with Lyme disease have symptoms that last months to years after treatment with antibiotics.

What can I do to reduce my risk of being infected by Lyme Disease? By following the recommendations for personal protection and breeding site reduction, you can reduce your risk for Lyme Disease.

Reducing Your Risk

Avoid Areas With a Lot of Ticks

  • Ticks prefer wooded and bushy areas with high grass and a lot of leaf litter. These are areas to avoid.
  • If you do enter a tick area, walk in the center of the trail to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter.

Keep Ticks off Your Skin

  • Use insect repellent with DEET on adult skin and clothing to prevent tick bite.
  • Permethrin is another type of repellent. It can be purchased at outdoor equipment stores that carry camping or hunting gear. Permethrin kills ticks on contact! One application to pants, socks, and shoes typically stays effective through several washings. Permethrin should not be applied directly to skin.
  • Wear long pants, long sleeves, and long socks to keep ticks off your skin. Light-colored clothing will help you spot ticks more easily. Tucking pant legs into socks or boots and tucking shirts into pants help keep ticks on the outside of clothing. If you’ll be outside for an extended period of time, tape the area where your pants and socks meet to prevent ticks from crawling under your clothes.

Check Your Skin and Clothes for Ticks

  • Remove ticks from your clothes before going indoors. To kill ticks that you may have missed, wash your clothes with hot water and dry them using high heat for at least one hour.
  • Perform daily tick checks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Inspect all parts of your body carefully including your armpits, scalp, and groin. Remove ticks immediately using fine-tipped tweezers.
  • If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely small. But just to be safe, monitor your health closely after a tick bite and be alert for any signs and symptoms of tick-borne illness.
How common is Lyme Disease? In 2009, Michigan had 81 cases of Lyme Disease reported.

Should ticks that have been removed be tested? Patients who have removed a tick often wonder if they should have it tested. In general, the identification and testing of individual ticks is not useful for deciding if a person should get antibiotics following a tick bite. Call the Department of Public Health at 616-393-5645 for questions about tick testing.

West Nile Virus

What is West Nile Virus (WNV)? It is a virus transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito that can cause encephalitis or meningitis.

How is WNV Spread? It is spread to humans by the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird carrying WNV. You cannot get the disease from person to person or directly from a bird.

Should dead birds be tested for WNV? In the past, the Department of Public Health has collected dead crows, ravens and jays for testing and logged dead bird reports of other species. The Department of Public Health no longer tests or takes reports of dead birds. The past tells us to expect some level of infection in birds, mosquitoes and in humans. Residents may use the electronic reporting form on the state website to report dead birds. If you find a dead bird, do not touch it with your bare hands. Instead use a shovel or bag to pick up the bird. Dead birds can be buried, or bagged and discarded in the trash.

What are the symptoms of WNV? Most people who become infected with WNV either have no symptoms or experience mild illness such as fever, headache and body ache before fully recovering. In some individuals, it can cause serious disease that affects the brain. Symptoms of more serious illness include the rapid onset of headache, high fever, stiff neck, confusion, loss of consciousness, muscle weakness, and may be fatal. Fewer than 1 in 1,000 people infected with WNV die.

Is there any treatment for WNV? There is no specific therapy for WNV, nor a human vaccine for the virus.

When should a person be tested for WNV? See a doctor if you develop symptoms such as high fever, confusion, muscle weakness or if your eyes become sensitive to light.

What can I do to reduce my risk of being infected by WNV? By following the recommendations for personal protection and breeding site reduction, you can reduce your risk for WNV infection.
  • Limit outdoor activities at dusk and dawn
  • Wear protective clothing like long sleeved shirts and pants when outdoors
  • Avoid shaded areas, tall grass, and bushes
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET following label instructions

Applying of pesticides to control mosquitoes is not without environmental impact, therefore the OCHD advocates Breeding Site Reduction as the safest means for controlling the mosquito population. The following measures are recommended to reduce the mosquito population on your property and in your neighborhood:

  • Reduce or eliminate standing water
  • Keep grass cut short
  • Keep shrubbery well trimmed
  • Remind neighbors to eliminate breeding sites on their properties