New York is a great place to live, especially in the summer months, due to the many opportunities our State Parks provide to get out and explore the wonders nature has to offer. But as East End families spend more time outside, the dangers posed by Lyme disease should remain on our minds.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial infection that is contracted solely from deer ticks. While the disease is easily treatable when caught early, if gone undiagnosed the long-term effects can be very serious. Thankfully, there are several preventive measures that will lessen your chance of being infected.
Ticks carrying Lyme disease usually sit on the tips of grass blades or brush and use the overhanging growth to crawl on you when passing by. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants in wooded or grassy areas will greatly minimize your risk of being bitten and limit your skin exposure. Additionally, the black ticks will stand out better if you are wearing lightly colored clothing.
Deer ticks are very small, about the size of a sesame seed, so it is important to check yourself closely after coming inside. Make sure you pay particular attention to the backs of your knees, behind your ears, your scalp and your back. Parents should always check young children after they have been in wooded areas. Also, ticks often find their way into homes by attaching themselves to pets. After walks, owners should give their pets a thorough once over to make sure no ticks are present. It is also recommended that owners check with their veterinarian about products to reduce tick exposure.
To infect the host, a deer tick that has contracted Lyme disease must feed for an entire blood meal, which can take up to 48 hours.i If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Use tweezers or a specialized tick-removal tool and pull the tick in a steady, upward motion away from the skin, without jerking or twisting the body. Disinfect the bite area and wash your hands immediately after removal.ii Never try to burn or “unscrew” a tick as this can increase your risk of infection. If a tick has already embedded itself in the skin, it needs to be taken care of right away.
There are many symptoms of Lyme disease and they tend to vary from patient to patient. Generally, the first symptom is a slowly expanding rash extending from the bite site in the shape of a “bull’s eye.” Other symptoms of Lyme disease can include chills, fever, fatigue, headache, a stiff neck, jaw discomfort and pain or stiffness in muscles and joints. Symptoms can be treated with antibiotics and the earlier the treatment begins, the easier it is to prevent long-term effects, which can affect the heart or central nervous system. You should contact your doctor at the first sign of Lyme disease.
By taking these precautions, your family can safely enjoy the outdoors in the summer months and greatly reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease. For more information, you can visit the New York State Department of Health website (www.health.ny.gov), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website (www.hhs.gov) or the CDC website (www.cdc.gov).