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Lyme Disease and Ticks
Watch out for signs of Lyme Disease, learn to prevent tick bites
SGT Megan Ludwikowski
Spring has come early this year, which means an early swarm of insects. Anyone who spends any time outside in Northern New York will report ticks are prevalent in the North Country. Because ticks spend the winter hibernating, and ‘wake up’ when the weather warms, the spring through early fall is the time of year we find most tick-related diseases. Lyme disease is the most common tick transmitted disease.
The signs and symptoms associated with Lyme disease can range from the traditional bulls eye rash, fever, chills and body aches to joint swelling, weakness and temporary paralysis. If the disease remains untreated, it may cause severe joint pain and swelling, neurological problems including temporary paralysis of one side of the face, numbness and weakness in the limbs, impaired muscle movement, and severe fatigue.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that is carried and transmitted by deer ticks. The life cycle of a deer tick begins with a nymph which is a very small tick that tends to feed off of small mammals like mice, cats, and dogs. These animals are often carriers of Lyme disease. When the tick molts and becomes larger, they require an additional blood meal from a larger source including deer, livestock, and humans. It is during these phases, as the tick grows large enough to reproduce, that Lyme disease can be transmitted.
Ticks must have previously been exposed to Lyme disease before they can infect humans. However, in some Lyme disease-prone areas, as many as 50 percent of the ticks may be carriers of the bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most ticks are very rapid crawlers, but cannot fly or jump. Ticks find their prey by sitting on the edge of grasses or tree branches and waiting for an animal to walk along.
According to the New York State Department of Health there were 49 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Jefferson County during 2009. In the entire state of New York there were 9,279 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2009. This is a serious concern for Soldiers and civilians that spend long hours outdoors. One Soldier was exposed to a tick positive for Lyme disease just last fall during a field exercise, and a tick found on a field commonly used for PT tested positive for Lyme.
There are some simple things that can be done to prevent being bitten by a tick. First, wear appropriate clothing. Even during the warmer months wear long sleeves and pants while spending time in wooded areas. During training, ensure that Soldiers wear the uniform properly, with the jacket sleeves rolled down, t-shirt tucked into pants, and pants tucked into boots.
Wear insect repellant on exposed skin, DEET for Soldiers while training, an over-the-counter insect repellant such as “OFF” or “Skin So Soft” for Families and children. Pay attention to the instructions on the bottle when using insect repellant, especially when applying it to children. Soldiers can also wear Permethrin-treated uniforms.
After returning from the outdoors, or at the conclusion of training each day, inspect your skin for ticks. Pay close attention to the scalp, waist, wrists and neck, and have a partner check for ticks in hard-to-see areas, such as the back, neck, and scalp. Shake out clothing and wash as soon as possible to remove any tick that may be on clothing but not attached.
If a tick does become attached, do not panic! If possible, do not remove the tick and report immediately to the CTMC or Guthrie Urgent Care Clinic to have the tick removed by medical professionals. This allows the tick to be tested for the presence of tick-borne diseases.
If you cannot make it to a health professional, use a pair of fine tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the head as possible. Pull firmly at the tick, without squeezing it, away from your body. The tick’s mouth parts have barbs to attach to your skin more firmly, which occasionally cause the mouth parts to remain stuck in your skin. If this happens wash the area thoroughly with antibacterial soap and water. Remove the mouth parts if they are visible. Save the tick in a plastic bag, alive if possible, to give to a medical professional on post for testing. You should report all tick bites to your medical care provider.
Don’t forget about your pets! There is a high transmission rate of Lyme disease in dogs in the area, and they suffer from the same symptoms. You should keep flea and tick repellant on your pets, prescribed by your veterinarian, especially if they go outside. If you find a tick on your pet, you can also take your pet to the vet to get the tick tested. Call your vet first to make sure they offer this service.
Whether you are having fun this spring or summer, or training in the field, remember to pay attention to your surroundings. Use insect repellant and avoid tall grasses if possible. If you do find yourself a victim of a tick bite, be sure to remove the tick carefully and remember the common symptoms of Lyme disease, just in case. Be careful out there!
For further information, please contact the Environmental Health office at (315)772-7678.