It’s around this time of year that Dr. William Manzel starts seeing a sizable increase in the number of patients with suspected Lyme disease.
May and June typically mark the uptick in Lyme disease cases, since that’s when the small nymph stage of the tick is prevalent.
Manzel, a family medicine doctor with Stillwater Medical Group, says if you live in the St. Croix River Valley, chances are you’ll encounter a deer tick at some point.
“You could stay inside all summer, but that’s not really feasible,” he said. “I recommend covering up with pants and sleeves and wearing bug spray and repellent. Check yourself all over for ticks when you return inside.”
Bill Johnson, the owner and copywriter of the Stillwater-based WordWizards, visited Dr. Manzel last summer when his health started to suffer a few weeks after a canoeing trip at William O’Brien State Park.
He experienced off-and-on fevers, pain in his back and mid-section and red patches on his head and torso and finally hit rock bottom during a camping trip.
“We were there for a festival, but I wasn’t feeling very festive,” recalled Johnson. “I spent most of the time just lying down, though I couldn’t lie in one position very long because of the pain. I had night sweats, too.”
Manzel suspected Lyme disease and immediately started Bill on a three-week course of antibiotics.
“Ticks are widespread here in the St. Croix River Valley,” Manzel said. “Lyme disease is very regional. It is rare for doctors in some parts of the country to see a case, but here, in central and northern Minnesota, it’s very common. It can be a complicated diagnosis because it can mirror other conditions.”
In its early stages, Lyme disease is often curable. Left untreated, it can have serious complications. These can include chronic joint inflammation (especially of knees), neurological symptoms, cognitive defects and irregular heart rhythm.
Although his brush with Lyme disease made him more cautious, Johnson says he’ll still head outdoors this summer.
“I love the outdoors,” he said. “I canoe, hike, bird watch, camp and I don’t want to give any of that up. But I will be more careful of my immediate surroundings. If I’m on a trail, I won’t go off the trail. I’ll be more diligent about checking for ticks.”
Manzel’s tips for avoiding Lyme disease
• Cover up with pants and long sleeves when outside, especially in wooded areas.
• Wear bug spray and repellent.
• Check yourself head to toe when you come inside.
• If you find a tick attached, remove it. Remember, it’s the deer ticks which cause Lyme disease.
• The tick must be attached for more than 36 hours to transmit the bacteria which cause Lyme disease.
• Don’t stress; even if a tick’s attached for more than 36 hours, there’s still only a 3 percent chance of developing Lyme disease. And, even if you’re not yet showing any symptoms, you can start antibiotics as a preventative. They will cut your chances of developing the condition in half again.