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Ask the Doc

May 2014 • Published in The Daily Press, Ashland WI

Q: Now that spring is finally here and the weather is getting warmer, we’re spending a lot more time outdoors. Should I worry about ticks, especially the type that carry Lyme disease? And if I happen to get bitten by a tick, does that make me ineligible to donate blood?

A: “Ick, a tick” you say when you find and remove a tick. The challenge is that the ticks that carry Lyme disease, a small blacklegged tick (sometimes called deer tick), are very hard to see. The Saint Croix River Valley is particularly “rich” in this tick which may carry the infectious agent causing Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), but also the organisms causing Babesia and Anaplasmosis. While there are almost 3,000 cases of Lyme disease reported each year in Wisconsin and Minnesota combined, there are about 1/10 this number of cases for Anaplasmosis and about 1/100 for Babesia. However, the chance of spreading the Babesia and Anaplasmosis infections once in the blood are far higher. While there are no proven cases of Lyme transmission by blood transfusion, there are many cases of Babesia transmission by blood transfusion. Beginning in April and all through the warmest months of summer when ticks are most active, there are a number of precautions you can take to prevent coming in contact with the type of tick that spreads Lyme disease:

  • use insect repellent containing DEET on yourself and your pets
  • wear light colored long sleeved shirts and full length trousers if walking through brush or wooded areas
  • remove ticks promptly
  • learn the early signs of tick-borne illnesses and seek a doctor’s care if you have a persistent rash, joint swelling or fevers 

For more detailed advice, we encourage you to visit http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/communicable/Tickborne/Lyme/

For information on deer ticks: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/dtopics/tickborne/ticks.html

The good news is that a tick bite does not make you ineligible to save lives through blood donation. Even if you have been diagnosed with having had Lyme disease or Anaplasmosis, once you are treated and recover you are eligible to donate again two months following recovery. If you are one of the rare individuals who has had Babesia, however, you are not eligible to donate.

Summer is a challenging time for keeping the shelves stocked with blood so please make a date to donate with Memorial Blood Centers today. Making an appointment online is easy and convenient. Visit www.MBC.org and click the Schedule Now button. You can search by zip code for a community blood drive near you or make an appointment at one of our Northland donor centers, including at Essentia Health in Superior, or at Burning Tree Plaza in Duluth. 

Jed Gorlin, M.D., M.B.A. is Medical Director and Vice President, Medical and Quality Affairs for Memorial Blood Centers.  Elizabeth Perry, M.D. is Associate Medical Director for Memorial Blood Centers.                                                                 

Send us your questions at askthedoc@MBC.org. Call us today 1-888-GIVE-BLD (888-448-3253) to schedule an appointment, or to find out more about Memorial Blood Centers and how we partner with the Ashland community to save lives. You also can visit us online at www.MBC.org.

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