State warns of Lyme Disease risk

FROM THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES:

Lyme Disease Remains a Health Threat in Wisconsin

Cases increased 35% in 2010; May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

MADISON -- Lyme disease cases increased 35 percent in 2010, and state health officials are urging people to take precautions against tick bites as warm spring weather triggers more “blacklegged” or “deer” tick activity. Infected blacklegged ticks can carry Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases including anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis.

Lyme disease cases totaled 3,495 in 2010 compared with 2,587 cases in 2009, according to Dr. Henry Anderson, State Health Officer.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease may occur 3 days to 30 days after the bite of an infected tick, which can include a rash called erythema migrans (EM), fever and chills, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. In some people the EM rash may not occur. The disease can be easily treated with antibiotics when detected early. However, if left untreated, Lyme disease can result in debilitating arthritis, and serious heart and nervous system complications.

“Everyone should take precautions against bites from blacklegged ticks, especially between May and August when people are more likely to be exposed,” said Anderson. “It’s important for people to check themselves for ticks as soon as possible when they come indoors.”

People can take steps to avoid tick bites and reduce the chance of getting Lyme disease:

• Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter since ticks prefer these areas. Stay to the center of a trail to avoid contact with grass and brush.

• Use effective tick repellants and apply according to the label instructions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults use repellants with 20-30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing to prevent tick bites. Repellants that contain permethrin can also be applied to clothing.

• Wear clothes that will help shield you from ticks. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best. Tuck your pants into the top of your socks or boots, to create a “tick barrier.” Light-colored clothing makes ticks easier to spot.

• Landscape homes and recreational areas to reduce the number of ticks by creating tick-safe zones using woodchips or gravel along the border between lawn and wooded area. Continue to remove leaf litter and clear tall grass and brush around the house throughout the summer.

• Check frequently for ticks, and remove them promptly. Blacklegged ticks are small and may be difficult to find, so tick checks must be done on all parts of the body carefully and thoroughly. Pay special attention to areas where ticks tend to hide, such as the head, scalp, and body folds (armpit, behind the knee, groin).

• Remove attached ticks slowly and gently, using a pair of thin-bladed tweezers applied as close to the skin as possible. Folk remedies like petroleum jelly, nail polish remover, or burning matches are not safe or effective ways to remove ticks.

• Protect pets from tick bites by checking dogs or cats for ticks before allowing them inside. While a vaccine can prevent Lyme disease in pets, it will not stop the animal from carrying infected ticks into the home. Speak to a veterinarian about topical tick repellant available for pets.