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Health officials urge precautions from ticks, which can cause Lyme disease

Posted 26 May 2019 at 8:36 am

Press Release, Genesee and Orleans public health departments

Springtime in New York is a much welcomed season. The trees are blooming, colorful flowers are sprouting up, and the days are getting longer. This is also a time when animals and insects make their return from the cold winter months. As many of us will be outdoors enjoying the warm months to come, it is important to be educated on ticks and Lyme disease to protect you, your family, and your pets from this harmful illness.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected deer tick. In the United States, infected ticks can be found in the Northeast, including New York State; in the upper Midwest; and along the Northwest coast. Deer ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level. They will cling to tall grass, brush and shrubs; but cannot jump or fly.

They also live in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woods and around old stone walls. Young deer ticks, called nymphs, are active from mid-May to mid-August and are about the size of poppy seeds. Adult ticks, which are approximately the size of sesame seeds, are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Both nymphs and adults can transmit Lyme disease.

Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but prefer hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. If you find a tick on yourself or your pet it is important to remove it promptly. Although not all ticks are infected, your risk of acquiring Lyme disease is greatly reduced if the tick is removed within the first 36 hours after attachment. Brenden Bedard, Director of Community Health Services of Genesee and Orleans Counties, provides instructions on how to properly remove a tick.

“It is important to use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.”

Early diagnosis (within 3 to 30 days) and proper antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease can help to prevent late Lyme disease. Although Lyme disease is rarely life-threatening, delayed treatment can result in more severe disease. People who notice a characteristic rash or other possible symptoms, should consult their healthcare provider.

Signs and symptoms of early Lyme disease include: Red bullseye skin rash, called erythema migrans, facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy), fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.

As Lyme disease progresses more severe symptoms like arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling may develop months-to-years post tick bite in 60 percent of persons who are not given antibiotic treatment. It is important to keep in mind that getting Lyme disease once does not provide protection against getting Lyme in the future, if you are bitten again at a different time you can get Lyme disease again. If you develop any of these symptoms you should call your doctor right away to inquire about getting tested and treated.

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid areas where deer ticks live, especially wooded, bushy areas with long grass. You can decrease your risk of getting Lyme disease with some simple precautions:

Cover up. When in wooded or grassy areas, wear shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long- sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves. Try to stick to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass. Keep your dog on a leash.

Use insect repellents. Apply insect repellent with a 20 percent or higher concentration of DEET to your skin. Parents should apply repellant to their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth. Keep in mind that chemical repellents can be toxic, so follow directions carefully. Wear clothing treated with 0.5% permethrin. Re-treat clothing annually according to label instructions.

Do your best to tick-proof your yard. Clear brush and leaves where ticks live. Mow your lawn regularly. Stack wood neatly in dry, sunny areas to discourage rodents that carry ticks.

Check your clothing, yourself, your children and your pets for ticks. Be especially watchful after spending time in wooded or grassy areas. It is helpful to shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth might remove unattached ticks. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, dry them completely and then dry for 10 minutes on high heat.

Bedard also mentions the importance of taking this education with you when you travel.

“When people are on vacation, they may not realize the area they are traveling to could have a high prevalence of deer ticks, which may lead to Lyme disease,” he said. “Make sure you are well prepared by researching the area ahead of time and bringing a tick removal kit with you.”

For more information on Lyme disease, please click here.