Town urges protection against Lyme disease

The town continues to urge residents to be on their guard against Lyme disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Lyme disease patients are most likely to have illness onset in June, July or August. In 2010 there were 22,561 confirmed and 7,597 probable cases of Lyme disease (LD) reported to the Centers for CDC from 50 states and the District of Columbia. Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi which is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected black-legged (Ixodes scapularis) tick, commonly known as the “deer tick.”

Thanks to the wooded areas in Greenwich and other Connecticut towns, Lyme disease is a major issue. In 2010, Connecticut ranked sixth among states reporting Lyme disease with a total of 3,068 cases confirmed and probable. The state also was third among states that had the highest incidence rate of disease. In 2010 the state reported 1,964 confirmed cases of Lyme disease. Among the eight counties in Connecticut, Fairfield County reported the second highest number of confirmed cases.

“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,” town Director of Health Caroline Calderone Baisley said in a department press release. “By applying a few simple precautionary measures like checking for ticks on the body daily, 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. 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 estimated that in Connecticut, 10-32% of Lyme disease patients have Babesia. It is equally important to know what can be done to minimize your risk.”

According to the town’s Department of Health Director of Laboratory Douglas Serafin, “The month of May begins the nymph lifecycle of the deer tick which carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and the protozoan organism, Babesia microti, that causes Babesiosis. The nymphal stage tick is very tiny and can easily go unnoticed on the skin. Nymphs are also more active from June through August which is why it important to apply personal protection measures.”

For personal protection, the town urges residents to use insect repellent containing 30%-40% DEET and wear close-toed shoes, light-colored clothing and tuck long pants into the socks to make ticks easier to detect and to help keep them off of skin. People should do thorough tick checks of yourself, your children and pets. If found, research has found the sooner you remove an attached tick, the less likely you are to become infected with Lyme disease. Remove ticks within 24 hours by using tweezers and grasping the tick mouthparts as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick out with steady pressure. Do not yank the tick out. Do not pull on the body of the tick. Wash the area with soap and water, then dry and apply a topical antiseptic. Do not use a hot match, nail polish remover, petroleum jelly or other substances to remove ticks. Contact your physician if you are bitten and watch for early symptoms.

Early symptoms , which are seen three to 30 days post exposure include, but are not limited to: An expanding red rash usually at the site of the tick bite, but can occur in other locations on the body, fever and/or chills, fatigue, muscle, bone and joint pain, transient, migrating arthritis, a stiff neck, headache, Bell’s palsy or other cranial nerve neuritis and a secondary rash. Late state symptoms, which are seen within months post exposure, include, but are not limited to: Severe arthritis, neurological and cardiac complications, weakness and fatigue and mood and/or sleep problems. Signs of Babesiosis, which develop one to six weeks after a tick bite, include, but are not limited to: Fatigue/malaise, fever, chills, gastrointestinal symptoms, sweats and muscle pain.

Other symptoms that may occur include coughing, shortness of breath, depression, dark urine and weight loss

To protect pets, people should minimize time that dogs and cats spend outdoors and access to areas with leaf litter, brush and tall weeds. This may help reduce the number of ticks brought back into the home. Check pets for ticks when they come indoors and check with your veterinarian regarding methods to prevent your pet from tick bites.

For proper landscape management to prevent ticks, the town recommends keeping grass mowed, removing leaf litter, brush, and tall weeds from around the home and at the lawn’s edge and using plantings that do not attract deer or exclude deer through various types of fencing. People should ,move firewood, and birdhouses and feeders away from the home and create a 3-foot or wider wood chip, mulch, or gravel barrier between your lawn and woods.

In an effort to raise awareness of this important health problem, the Greenwich Department of Health Lab will continue to serve the public by testing 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,” Mr. Serafin said. “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 $60.00, which includes identifying the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and the protozoan organism that causes Babesiosis. Results are normally available within 7 days. For additional information on Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases, visit the Greenwich Department of Health, log on to the Department of Health webpage at greenwichct.org and click “Brochures & Print Material” for the Ticks and Lyme disease link or call the Greenwich Department of Health Lab at 203-622-7843.

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