Department of Health offers Lyme disease advice

Lyme disease has threatened Greenwich and the U.S. for decades as the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the country.

The disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected black-legged (Ixodes scapularis) tick, commonly known as the “deer tick.” Nationally, more than 8,800 probable cases of Lyme were reporter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012.

Connecticut specifically is one of the most Lyme disease-prone states, having recorded 2,657 confirmed and probable cases of the disease last year, the fifth heighest of any state. Of the 1,653 confirmed cases of Lyme in the state, Fairfield County reported the second heighest, finishing just beyond New London County, while Middlesex reported the least cases.

In 2013, the Greenwich Department of Health Laboratory tested 494 identified deer ticks. The Connecticut Department of Health states that about 20% of them were positive for Lyme disease, with 2% showing as positive for the tick-associated disease babesiosis, and 1% testing positive for both.

According to the CDC, Lyme disease patients are most likely to have illness onset in June, July or August, and the heavily wooded areas of Connecticut make residents even more succeptible to the disease.

“This makes a lot of sense,” Department of Health Director of Laboratory Douglas Serafin said. “The month of May begins the nymph lifecycle of the ‘deer tick’ which carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) 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 is important to apply personal protection measures.”

“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,” Director of Health Caroline Calderone Baisley added. “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. Baisley added. “So it is imperative to know the signs and symptoms of this disease. Other tickborne diseases such as babesiosis 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.”

In an effort to raise awareness of this important health problem, the Greenwich Department of Health Laboratory will continue to serve the public by testing ticks for the bacterium that causes Lyme and the protozoan organism that causes babesiosis.

According to a small survey conducted by the department’s laboratory, of about 100 people who had ticks that were attached and found positive for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, all of them reported the information to their health care providers. Of those who did not experience any symptoms of disease after exposure, more than 50% were considered for treatment preemptively by their physicians. The cost of tick testing is $64, and results are normally available within seven days.

“Although a tick may test positive, it does not necessarily mean that you will get Lyme disease,” stated Lab Director Doug Serafin. “Like any other screening tool, the process for testing ticks has a small margin of error and, specifically 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.”

Early Lyme disease symptoms appear within three to 30 days and can include a red rash, often occuring at the site of the tick bite, fever, fatigue, musicle, bone and joint pain, migrating arthritis, stiff neck, headache, Bell’s palsy or other cranial nerve neuritis. If untreated, symptoms can progress towards severe arthritis, cardiac and nervous system complications, weakness and fatigue and mood  and sleep problems.

Babesiosis also carries sypmtomps of fatigue, fever, chills and muscle pain in the early stages, compounded with gastrointestinal issues and sweats. Other symptoms are a persistant cough, shortness of breath, depression, dark urine and weight loss.

The Department of Health advises residents to use insect repellent containing 30 to 40 percent DEET, wear light clothing, and tuck long pants into their socks for less vulnerability and an easier time spotting ticks. Tick checks are an important safety measure during any outdoor excursion, as research has shown that the sooner a tick is removed, the less likely you are to be infected with Lyme disease. The Department of Health recommends removing all ticks within 24 hours.

Pets can carry ticks into the house as well, so they too should be subject to tick checks when brought inside. Limit their time playing in brush, tall grass or heavily wooded areas, and contact your veterinarian for other ways to reduce the likelihood of a pet carrying ticks.

Basic landscape management, including removing loose foliage and keeping grass mowed can help prevent ticks and the transmission of Lyme. Moving firewood, birdhouses and feeders away from the home can be effective as well. The Department of Health suggests creating a three-foot barrier of wood chip, mulch or gravel between the woods and the home lawn.

In order to remove a tick, use tweezers to grasp the tick’s mouthparts as close to the skin as possible, and pull the tick out with steady pressure. Do not yank the tick out. Do not pull on the body of the tick. Afterwards, wash the area with soap and water, and apply a topical antiseptic after drying. It is not advised to use heat, or any sort of chemicals to try and remove the tick. In all cases, individuals who are bitten by a tick should contact a medical professional and remain on the lookout for early symptoms.

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 and click “Brochures & Print Material” for the Ticks and Lyme disease link or visit the State of Connecticut, Department of Public Health website at

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

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