Press Release

July 1, 2005



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, today announced that the organism responsible for Lyme disease in humans and animals has been identified for the first time in DuPage County. Two sites with established populations of deer ticks have been found. Other species of ticks, the American dog tick and the lone star tick, were also found, presenting an increase risk to the public from tick-borne diseases. The American dog tick is most often responsible for Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the lone star can be associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tularemia, which can be fatal. Previously, the only counties in the Chicago metropolitan area with established populations of the deer tick were Grundy and Will counties.

“Several diseases can be transmitted by tick bites,” said Dr. Whitaker. “People living in densely wooded subdivisions or spending time outdoors need to know how to avoid tick bites.”

The black-legged tick, also known as “the deer tick”, is the carrier of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. It is also capable of transmitting a form of human ehrlichiosis. The larvae of deer ticks are infected when they feed on small rodents such as the white-footed mouse. Humans become infected from the bite of an infected tick. A tick is a small, wingless bug, similar to a mite that feeds on the blood of mammals and birds. It can attach to any exposed part of the body of people walking through grass or brush where ticks are found.

The time from infection to the appearance of the “bull’s –eye” rash is typically seven to 14 days but it may be as short as three days and as long as 32 days. Early symptoms may also include fever, headache, neck stiffness, malaise, and muscle and joint aches. If not treated, the disease can affect other areas of the body such as joints, nerves and the heart.

The state has seen an increase in the number of Lyme disease cases reported in recent years. Last year, 87 cases were reported, up from 71 cases in 2003 and 47 cases in 2002.

Ticks live in and near wooded areas, and wait in tall grass and brush for an animal or human to brush against them. Ticks cannot jump or fly. They are often no bigger than a pin head, and can spread disease when the temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Ticks are active from April through November, but tick activity – and the likelihood of contracting a tick-borne disease—peaks in Illinois in June and July.

Dr. Whitaker said the best way to protect yourself against tick-borne illnesses is to avoid tick bites. He suggests the following precautions:

  • Check your clothing often for ticks climbing toward open skin. Wear white or light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants so the tiny ticks are easier to see.
  • Tuck long pants into your socks and boots. Wear a head covering or hat for added protection.
  • For those who may not tolerate wearing all of these clothes in hot, muggy weather, apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin (except the face). Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors. If you do cover up, use repellents containing permethrin to treat clothes (especially pants, socks and shoes) while in locations where ticks may be common. Follow label directions; do not misuse or overuse repellents. Always supervise children in the use of repellents.
  • Walk in the center of trails so weeds do not brush against you.
  • Check yourself, children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks. Most ticks seldom attach quickly and rarely transmit tick-borne disease until they have been attached for four or more hours.
  • If you let your pet outdoors, check them often for ticks. Infected ticks also can transmit disease to them. (Check with you veterinarian about preventative measures against tick-borne disease). You are at risk from ticks that “hitch a ride” on your pets but fall off in your house before they feed.
  • Remove any tick promptly. Do not try to burn the tick with a match or cover with petroleum jelly or not polish. Do not use bare hands. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp its head or mouthparts with fine-point tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick and do not grab it by the body. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of cloth or whatever can be used as a barrier between your fingers and the tick. You may want to put the tick in a jar of rubbing alcohol label with the date and location of the bite in case you seek medical attention and your physician wishes to have the tick identified.
  • Wash the bite area and your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic to the bite site.
  • Make sure the property around your home is unattractive to ticks. Keep your grass mowed and weeds cut.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fact sheets (“HealthBeats”) on ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, Rock Mountain spotted fever and tularemia are available on the Department’s Web site at


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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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