Healthbeat Report: Ticked off

July 2, 2009 Ticks are on the move in Illinois. And everyone's urged to take precautions.

Lyme disease is not something most people associate with Illinois. But cases of this tick-spread illness are increasing and you might be surprised to learn where they are showing up. Health experts say there's no need to panic but we need to be aware.

A couple years ago, Morgan Trajkovich would not have thought twice about being able to participate in cheerleading or tumbling.

Then something happened. he young tumbler and cheerleader started getting strange pains in her joints. She was exhausted and plagued with headaches.

"One day I was walking to class and I just started screaming cause my hip hurt so bad," said Morgan Trajkovich.

Getting around became excruciating. Cheerleading was out.

After an exhaustive search for a cause, the Trajkovichs started to suspect their teenage daughter had Lyme disease. They think she might have gotten it in her own backyard in Naperville.

"It's been close to two years since I first discovered the bite on her leg. We had no idea what bite her but it was this big around," said Gloria Trajkovich, mother.

But as the Trajkovichs discovered, Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because test results can be unreliable and they say local doctors were skeptical.

"You live in Illinois, Naperville. There's no way your daughter has Lyme disease," said Nick Trajkovich, father.

But Lyme disease is on the move in Illinois. And while the number of cases is considered by experts to be low they are growing.

"We've seen an increase in Lyme over the past decade from about 10 to 15 cases a year to over 100," said Dr. Craig Conover, Ill. Dept. Public Health.

A bite from an infected deer tick can pass the illness on to humans. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, these ticks are now showing up in counties such as Lake, Cook, DuPage and Will.

"You just take the drag along the rail edge and the questing ticks will brad a hold of it," said Dr. Conover.

Jeff Nelson, a physician and biology professor at North Park University, combs local wooded areas when a case of Lyme disease or a bite is reported.

Watch an extended interview with Dr. Nelson

Deer ticks are really quite small - about the size of a gnat or a poppy seed which makes them tough to find. But Dr. Nelson says not everyone who gets bitten will get Lyme disease. It can take from 24 to 36 hours for the bug to transmit the disease so removing the tick promptly is a must. He also warns patients with vague or unexplained symptoms against rushing out for a Lyme test.

"If everyone with joint complaints or neurologic kind of illness goes to get a lyme test many will be falsely positive and then they are sent on a pathway that delays other diagnosis," said Dr. Nelson.

The Trajkovichs say a doctor on the east coast diagnosed Morgan with Lyme disease. She's now taking antibiotics and a medication commonly used to treat arthritis and lupus. They're staying positive but know it will take time for Morgan to heal. The family hopes sharing their story will help others.

"You need to know it is here so watch out," said Morgan Trajkovich.

Health experts say the growing Lyme disease problem should be an alert to Illinois doctors to start looking for it. Signs of illness include a bulls eye like rash, though some people may never develop one, fever, chills, body aches, headache and fatigue.

Obviously, most people are going to enjoy the outdoors this summer. To be safe experts recommend light colored clothing, Deet bug spray and frequent body checks for ticks.

How to protect yourself against Lyme disease:

- walk in the middle of trails
- wear light colored clothing
- wear a hat and long sleeved clothing
- wear bug repellent with DEET
- check for ticks immediately after being outside
- remove tick carefully with tweezers. Save tick in jar so it can be analyzed by lab - consult doctor

Dr. Jeff Nelson Infectious Disease Specialist
Biology Professor North Park University
Phone: (773) 244-5658

Dr. Craig Conover
Medical Director
Office of Health Protection
Division of Infectious Diseases
Illinois Department of Public Health
122 S. Michigan
Chicago, Il

Gundersen Foundation
Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation
Microbiology Research Laboratory
Health Science Center, Room 5032
1300 Badger Street
La Crosse, WI 54601
Phone (608) 775-3743
Fax (608) 775-6602
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