Bugs, bats and bacteria, by George Sedlacek

Everyone knows that the Upper Peninsula is one of the best places in the nation to enjoy camping, swimming and fresh homegrown food in the summer. There are a few health reminders to reduce the risk of exposure to bacteria and viruses that can cause illness. Every July, the Marquette County Health Department kicks-off a month-long awareness campaign to inform local residents about what they can do to prevent illness and what the health department is doing to protect the health of residents and visitors.
“Be aware of potential infection from various sources during the summer months, but do not let it keep you from enjoying the many activities that the county has to offer for fun and recreation,” said Fred Benzie, health officer for the department. “You can protect yourself and your family by taking some simple precautions.”
Residents and visitors should be aware of and protect themselves from illnesses such as Lyme disease, rabies and West Nile virus.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection resulting from the bite of an infected deer tick. If left untreated, it can cause chills, fever, headaches and muscle and joint pain. The risk of developing Lyme disease is minimal in Marquette County as there have not been significant cases. Lyme disease is more prevalent in Menominee County and Wisconsin. Common ticks in our area are the wood ticks, which are larger than the small sixteenth-inch deer tick.
Mosquito or tick repellent is effective. Wear long sleeve shirts and pants tucked into socks or boots. Wear light colored clothing so you can see the tick on you before it attaches itself. Ticks are best removed as soon as possible, because the risk of disease transmission increases significantly after twenty-four hours of attachment. When walking in the woods, simply watch for ticks and most of the time, they brush right off a human or canine.
Once in a while, a tick has to be removed. The use of a blunt, medium-tipped, angled forceps offers the best results. It is very important to remove the head of the tick—not just the body. Burning the tick with a lighted cigarette is pretty useless as well as dangerous. Coating it with Vaseline isn’t very effective either. Place the tweezers under the head of the tick and pull back gently. Be sure to apply antiseptic at the point of attachment.
Rabies and West Nile virus are both viral infections. Rabies is contracted through a bite or scratch from an infected animal. It also can be transmitted if saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or a person’s eyes, nose or mouth. In Michigan, rabies has been reported most often in bats. Treatment for rabies once a person or animal shows signs of the disease is extremely limited and the disease almost always is fatal, so reducing your exposure is crucial. Benzie states that geographically, bat rabies is widespread across the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, although cases do occur in the Upper Peninsula, with the last reported case in Marquette County in 2004.
West Nile virus is spread to humans primarily by the bite of an infected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by biting a bird that carries the virus. Most people who are infected with West Nile virus either have no symptoms or experience mild illness such as fever, headache and body aches. Residents who suspect they have been exposed to the virus, especially if the above symptoms worsen, should seek medical care immediately. West Nile illness in humans hasn’t been an issue in the Upper Peninsula over the past couple of years.
Be aware of potential illness from animal and tick bites during the summer months, as well as illness from consuming contaminated food and beverages.
Here are some precautions you can take to protect yourself and your family from foodborne illness:
• When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Cold food should be held at or below 41°F. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.
• When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid often, which lets cold air out and warm air in.
• Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry juices can contaminate safely cooked food.
For more information about infectious disease prevention and services, visit www.mqthealth.org
The health department has fact sheets available on most health concerns with bugs, bats and bacteria.
—George Sedlacek

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