Health Departments discover Lyme disease-causing bacteria in Nebraska’s tick population

The life stages of a black-legged tick. (Source: WSFA 12 News/CDC)
The life stages of a black-legged tick. (Source: WSFA 12 News/CDC)(WSFA 12 News/CDC)
Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 1:50 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - A coordinated environmental investigation involving several health departments was completed at suspected exposure sites after two Lyme disease patients reported likely exposure around the same time and area in Thurston County.

Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, alongside the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department and the Winnebago Public Health Department, collected deer tick, or black-legged tick, from the sites of likely exposure in Thurston County — one of four known counties to have established black-legged tick populations (Douglas, Sarpy, Saunders, and Thurston).

Officials say a subset of the ticks collected was sent to the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Disease and to Creighton University for testing in an attempt to detect pathogens vectored by the tick, including the bacteria responsible for causing Lyme disease.

Health department officials revealed that the ticks submitted to both Creighton and the CDC came back positive for the Lyme disease-causing bacteria — Borrelia burgdorferi — indicating the disease is circulating within the tick population in the area.

The DHHS states that these results mark the first-ever detection of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in Nebraska’s black-legged tick populations and the first definitive evidence of Lyme disease cases acquired locally in the state.

While tick activity may be slowing down with colder weather, the DHHS states black-legged ticks can be active year-round and offer simple steps to protect against tick bites:

  • Use an EPA-approved insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.
  • Treat clothing and gear such as boots, pants, socks, and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
  • Dress in long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks when outside.
  • Do frequent tick checks after being outdoors and remove attached ticks promptly with fine-tipped tweezers. Don’t forget to check pets for ticks after being outdoors as well.
  • Shower as soon as possible after being outdoors.

The DHHS also reports that ticks are generally found near the ground, in brushy or wooded areas. They cannot jump or fly. Instead, they climb grasses or shrubs and wait for you to brush against them.

They say if you find an attached tick to:

  • Remove the attached tick as soon as you notice it by grasping with fine-tipped tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, and pull it straight out. Early removal can minimize and often eliminate the chance of infection. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
  • Avoid using nail polish, petroleum jelly, or heat to make the tick detach from the skin. These methods are not effective and may increase the risk of disease transmission.
  • Watch for signs of illness such as rash or fever in the days and weeks following the bite, and see a healthcare provider if these develop. Be sure to let your healthcare provider know you were recently bitten by a tick.

For more information, visit the CDC’s tick website or their Lyme disease website. You can also view the full press release here.

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