Town provides Lyme disease tips

Greenwich is continuing its fight 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 (Ixodes scapularis) tick, commonly known as the “deer tick.” According to the town’s Department of Health , it is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the U.S. In 2012 there were 22,014 confirmed and 8,817 probable cases of Lyme disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In 2013, the state of Connecticut ranked fifth among states reporting Lyme disease with a total of 2,657 cases (confirmed and probable). The state also was fifth among states that had the highest incidence rate of disease. In 2013, Connecticut reported 1,683 confirmed cases of Lyme disease. In 2013, the Greenwich Department of Health Laboratory tested 494 identified deer ticks. About 20% of them were positive for Lyme disease, 2% positive for Babesiosis and 1% positive for both.

According to the CDC, Lyme disease patients may have illness onset during the winter.

“The period from October up until the first major snowfall sees the emergence of the adult female ‘deer tick’ which carries the bacterium that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) and the protozoan organism, Babesia microti, that causes babesiosis,” Department of Health Director of Laboratory Douglas Serafin said. “The tick is about the size of an apple seed, but will stay fastened to its host (a person or a dog) for a week, filling up with blood to become the size of a raisin. Because a tick is more likely to pass on infectious organisms the longer it remains attached to its host, it is important to be vigilant and remove ticks as soon as they become attached.”

“The autumn season is are especially important for awareness about Lyme disease since everyone is out raking leaves and/or taking part in some kind of outdoor activities in the cool air,” added Caroline Calderone Baisley, Director of Health. “By applying a few simple precautionary measures like checking for ticks on the body daily and using insect repellant, 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 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.”

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.

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 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, 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.”

The cost of tick testing is $64, 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 or visit the State of Connecticut, Department of Public Health website 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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