May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

Officials with the Broome County Health Department are reminding the public to take precautions to protect themselves from Lyme disease now that the weather is getting warmer.

With its abdomen engorged with a host blood meal, this image depicts a lateral, or side view of a female blacklegged, or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis/CDC

Lyme disease is spread by the bite of infected deer ticks. Ticks are of greatest concern in late spring and early summer as they are very active and difficult to see due to their size.

“Ticks cannot fly or jump. They like to rest on low-lying vegetation and in leaf litter.  Ticks attach to a passing animal or person. Once on a body, ticks often attach to the more hidden areas such as the groin, armpit and scalp,” said Victoria Perkins, Senior Public Health Sanitarian at the Broome County Health Department.

Ticks can be found not only in wooded or tall grassy areas but also in well-manicured lawns. It is very important for those residents that garden or spend time playing outside or working on their lawns to be aware.

Health officials offer the following precautions to prevent tick bites:

  • When in wooded or grassy areas, which are likely to be tick-infested, wear light-colored     clothing (to spot ticks) and tuck pants into socks and shirt into pants.
  • Walk in the center of trails.
  • Frequently check for ticks on clothing and on skin while outdoors.  Brush off any ticks on clothing before they can attach to your skin.
  • Do a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day (also check children and pets), and remove ticks promptly. Once on a body, ticks can attach anywhere but often attach to the more hidden areas such as behind the knees and ears, groin, armpits and scalp.
  • Bathe or shower, preferably within two hours, or as soon as possible after being outdoors in wooded or grassy areas.
  • Treat clothing with Permethrin prior to outdoor activities as an added measure of protection. Always follow manufacturer’s instructions when applying any product.
  • Use repellents that contain at least 20% DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Follow the label directions when applying.  Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Talk with your veterinarian about the best options to protect your pets.
Erythema migrans/James Gathany

Early stages of Lyme disease are usually marked by one or more of the following signs and symptoms; fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and (in 60-80% of cases) a “bull’s eye” or red rash appearing on the skin.  This rash may appear at the bite site or other locations on the body and will expand over time.

Lyme disease is often difficult to diagnose, because its symptoms and signs mimic those of many other diseases. Left untreated, Lyme disease can produce severe arthritis, or cause neurological or cardiac problems. However, with early detection and treatment, recovery from Lyme disease is usually rapid and complete. Please see your primary care provider if you notice a “bull’s eye” rash or have the symptoms listed above. Early detection is key.

Not all ticks are infected and your risk of contracting Lyme disease is greatly reduced if the deer tick is removed within the first 36 hours.  Use fine-tipped tweezers to carefully grasp the tick by the head as close to the skin as possible. Gently and steadily pull the tick upward and out making sure not to twist or squeeze it. After removing the tick, wash the bite area thoroughly and apply antiseptic. If mouth parts remain in the skin, leave them alone and they will generally fall out on their own in a few days.  Please remember that gasoline, kerosene, petroleum jelly or hot matches should never be used to remove ticks.

If the tick is found to be engorged or you believe that the tick has been attached for more than 36 hours, it is recommended that you contact your physician for preventive treatment options.

“Don’t forget, your pets are susceptible to Lyme disease as well,” said Josh Phelps, Public Health Sanitarian at the Broome County Health Department. “Pets should be fully checked for ticks daily if allowed outdoors as they can bring ticks into the home from outside. You can talk with your veterinarian about Lyme disease and tick preventative products.”