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Lyme disease bacteria believed found in Nebraska for the first time

Dec 10, 2021
5 min Read
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Creighton University has helped identify what are believed to be the first deer ticks ever captured in Nebraska that carry the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria responsible for causing Lyme disease.

Three Nebraska public health agencies provided black-legged tick samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and to Creighton University where Travis Bourret, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology at the Creighton University School of Medicine, successfully isolated Borrelia burgdorferi from tick samples in culture and used molecular testing to confirm its identity.

The ticks were captured during an environmental survey launched by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department and the Winnebago Public Health Department after two reports of Lyme disease were reported in Thurston County in northeast Nebraska.

Bourret’s identification was matched by the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Disease, which detected the bacteria in six out of ten ticks submitted to it.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that confirmed cases of Lyme disease could be attributed to bites from Borrelia burgdorferi-infected Ixodes scapularis [black-legged] ticks in Nebraska,” Bourret said.

Bourret said the identifications raise concern that the infections could multiply across the state, particularly since black-legged tick populations are already known to exist in Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders counties.

“These results mark the first detection of Borrelia burgdorferi in Nebraska blacklegged tick populations and the first definitive evidence of Lyme disease cases acquired locally in the state,” NDHHS said in a news release. “The detection of an established population of black-legged tick in Nebraska with evidence of detectable pathogens heightens concern of further establishment in other areas of the state.”

Lyme Disease, left untreated, can cause facial palsy, arthritis with severe joint pain, severe headaches, and heart palpitations, sometimes lasting for months. A recent CDC estimate based on insurance claims suggested 476,000 Lyme disease cases are diagnosed and treated annually in the United States.

DHHS will continue to work with the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department and the Winnebago Public Health Department to monitor the presence of Borrellia burgdorferi among the black-legged tick population.

DHHS issued the following guidance about preventing Lyme disease:

• 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.

Ticks are generally found near the ground, in brush or in wooded areas. They cannot jump or fly. Instead, they climb grasses or shrubs and wait for hosts to brush against them. When this happens, they attach with small claws and then find a spot to attach and consume blood. Persons discovering an attached tick should:

• Remove the tick promptly by grasping it with fine-tipped tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, and pull it straight out. Early removal can minimize and often eliminate the likelihood of infection. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area, and hands, with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

• Avoid folklore remedies such as nail polish, petroleum jelly, or heat to make the tick detach from the skin. These methods are ineffective 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.