Take steps to prevent Lyme disease

Lyme disease has been a public health issue in Connecticut since 1975, when it was first identified. It is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the U.S.  In 2013 there were 27,203 confirmed and 9,104 probable cases of Lyme disease reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.”

Along with many other tick-associated diseases such as human ehrlichiosis and human babesiosis, Lyme disease can be readily acquired in any Connecticut town, particularly in areas that are wooded. In 2013, the state of Connecticut ranked fifth among states reporting Lyme disease with a total of 2,925 cases (confirmed and probable).  The state also was fifth among states that had the highest incidence rate of disease.  In 2014, Connecticut reported 1,705 confirmed cases of Lyme disease and 641 probable cases.  Among the eight counties in Connecticut, New Haven County reported the highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease, Fairfield County reported the second highest and Middlesex County reported the lowest number. In 2014/2015, the Greenwich Department of Health Laboratory tested a total of 724 ticks and other insects.  Of the 465 deer ticks tested in the laboratory, 23% were found to be positive for Lyme disease, 3% were positive for Babesiosis and 1% was positive for both Borrelia and Babesiosis.  

According to the CDC, Lyme disease patients are most likely to have illness onset in June, July or August.  “This makes a lot of sense,” commented the Department of Health’s Director of Laboratory Douglas Serafin, “the months of April and 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 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,” stated Caroline Calderone Baisley, Director of Health.  “By applying a few simple precautionary measures like checking for ticks on the body every day 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,” explained Caroline Calderone Baisley, “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, can co-infect 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.”

The following is a list of symptoms (not inclusive) and protection measures.

Lyme Disease

Early symptoms (3-30 days post exposure) include, but not limited to:

  • Rash – an expanding red rash usually at the site of the tick bite, but can occur in other locations on the body.  Not all cases exhibit a rash.
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle, bone and joint pain
  • Transient, migrating arthritis
  • Stiff neck
  • Headache
  • Bell’s palsy or other cranial nerve neuritis
  • Secondary rash

Late state symptoms (within months post exposure) include, but not limited to:

  • Severe arthritis
  • Neurological and cardiac complications
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Mood and/or sleep problems

Babesiosis

  • Signs/symptoms (1-6 weeks after tick bite) include, but are not limited to:
  • Fatigue/malaise
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Sweats
  • Muscle pain

Other symptoms that may occur:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Depression
  • Dark urine
  • Weight loss

Personal Protection Measures:

  • Use insect repellent containing 30%-40% DEET.  Follow package instructions.  Do not apply under clothing or to children under 2 years.
  • Wear light-colored clothing and tuck long pants into the socks to make ticks easier to detect and to help keep them off of your skin.  Wear close-toed shoes.
  • Do thorough tick checks of yourself, your children and pets.  Properly remove ticks.
  • 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.

Landscape Management:

  • Keep grass mowed.
  • Remove leaf litter, brush, and tall weeds from around the home and at the lawn’s edge.
  • Use plantings that do not attract deer or exclude deer through various types of fencing.
  • Move firewood, and birdhouses and feeders away from the home.
  • Create a 3-foot or wider wood chip, mulch, or gravel barrier between your lawn and woods.

Pet Protection Measures:

  • 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.
  • Check with your veterinarian regarding methods to prevent your pet from tick bites.

Removing a Tick:

  • Using tweezers, grasp the tick 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.
  • 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.

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,” 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.”  

The cost of tick testing is $65 (until June 30, 2016), which includes identifying the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and the protozoan organism that causes Babesiosis. Results are normally available within 10 days.  The Greenwich Department of Health Lab can be reached at 203-622-7843 for more information about tick testing.  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.

Deer tick

Deer tick

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