Illustration by Tabi Walters

“The number of cases has exploded,” says Beth Ann Hamilton, communications coordinator for the Washtenaw County Health Department.

The county identified its first case in 2016, and five cases were reported in all of 2020. By mid-May, with tick season just starting, there had already been ten. Last year, 192 people were diagnosed in the county, and according to the department website, more than ten percent “were hospitalized with severe illness, meningitis and heart issues.”

“People might believe someone traveled or was out of state when they caught Lyme,” Hamilton says. “But we are seeing that in a majority of our cases, those with Lyme got bit by a tick here in Washtenaw County.” The blacklegged or deer tick is one of the primary carriers: The tiny arachnids drop from deer into tall grass and from there to humans.

Even with last year’s explosion, the department is worried that cases are being missed, because not a single Black resident was diagnosed and only three Latinx people. One possible reason: the “typical ‘bullseye’ rash (erythema) can look different from person to person and could potentially be harder to spot on darker skin,” Hamilton emails.

“For Black and Latinx populations, one of the reasons we wanted to highlight this is so our local doctors can know that Lyme disease happens here in Washtenaw County,” she says. “We need to keep an eye out for it.”

Tick season peaks in June, so we can expect cases of Lyme disease to rise. The good news? “The tick has to be attached to someone for thirty-six to forty-eight hours before the bacteria that causes the disease can be transmitted,” says Hamilton. “If you remove the tick within twenty-four hours, you can be pretty confident that you will be all right.

“This is a reminder that if you are spending time outside, be mindful of the disease—and take the extra time to check for ticks before you come inside.”