Health department offers Lyme disease prevention tips

The town is warning residents to continue to be on their guard against Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi which is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, commonly known as the “deer tick.”

In 2012, the Greenwich Department of Health’s Laboratory tested 400 identified deer ticks and 20% of them were positive for Lyme disease, two percent positive for Babesiosis and one percent positive for both.

According to the CDC, Lyme disease patients are most likely to have illness onset in the summer, including August.

According to Caroline Calderone Baisley, the town’s director of health, “The spring and summer months are especially important for awareness about Lyme disease since everyone is out planting and/or taking part in some kind of outdoor activities. By applying a few simple precautionary measures like checking for ticks on the body daily and using insect repellent, everyone can still enjoy the warm weather and decrease their chances of becoming infected.”

Children and adolescents are at a higher risk for getting Lyme disease because they spend more time in areas where they might suffer a tick bite.

“When Lyme disease is misdiagnosed and goes untreated in children, it has a profound, devastating impact on a child’s well being,” Ms. Calderone Baisley said. “So it is imperative to know the signs and symptoms of this disease. Other tickborne diseases such as Babesia can also be possible since the pathogen agent, Babesia microti, often co-infects the same tick that carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. It is equally important to know what can be done to minimize your risk.”

Symptoms of Lyme disease include a red rash usually at the site of the tick bite, fever and/or chills, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, stiff neck, headache and arthritis. Symptoms of Babesiosis include those of Lyme disease and may also include cough, shortness of breath, dark urine and weight loss.

The Department of Health has a number of personal protection measures to offer residents including using insect repellent containing  30% to 40% DEET, wearing light-colored clothing and tucking long pants into the socks to make ticks easier to detect, conducting thorough tick checks after time spent outside and wearing close-toed shoes.

Pet protection measures include minimizing time that cats and dogs spend outside as well as access to areas with leaf litter and tall weeds, checking pets for ticks when they come indoors and checking with a veterinarian regarding methods to prevent pets from getting tick bites.

In an effort to raise awareness of this important health problem, the Greenwich Department of Health Lab will test ticks for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and the protozoan organism that causes Babesiosis.

“Although a tick may test positive, it does not necessarily mean that you will get Lyme disease,” said Mr. Serafin. “Like any other screening tool, the process for testing ticks has a small margin of error and, specific for this disease, the tick must be attached for a period of time in order to increase a person’s risk. An engorged positive tick is much more likely to pass on the infected bacterium or protozoan organism than those ticks that are not engorged. Tick testing is only one tool among many to assess a person’s risk of getting Lyme disease or other tickborne diseases.”

The cost of tick testing is $62, which includes identifying the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and the protozoan organism that causes Babesiosis. Results are normally available within seven days.

For additional information on Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases, visit the Greenwich Department of Health or log on to the Department of Health webpage at greenwichct.org and click “Brochures & Print Material” for the Ticks and Lyme disease link.

The State of Connecticut Department of Public Health website also has helpful information at ct.gov/dph/ticks.

The Greenwich Department of Health Lab can be reached at 203-622-7843 for more information about tick testing.

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