Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ticks, Lyme Disease And You

Reporting for WTOP radio, Amy Hunter (www.wtop.com) sited a study on Lyme disease in the United States, the most extensive field study ever undertaken here. Results were released February 2, 2012, published in the “American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.”

Residents of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states run the highest risk of contracting it. Primarily carried by a minute deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), hardly noticeable on your skin, it measures a sixteenth to eighth inch long, and transmits a bacterial infection (Borrelia burgdorferi). Deer are the most common host of adults. Another are mice.

This study found the South virtually Lyme disease free, according to Dr. Maria A. Diuk-Wasser, lead author of the study. “We can’t completely rule out the existence of Lyme disease in the South,” she says, “but it appears highly unlikely.” Cases reported there were only in individuals who traveled to areas with high infection rates. Study the Lyme Disease Human Risk Map (http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2012/02/ultimate-lyme-disease-map) to ascertain your vulnerability and amount of protection you require against this disease.

I’ve had these arthropods crawling on me, digging in for a blood meal. Fortunately I’ve not had any on me long enough to cause Lyme disease. Studies indicate that infected ticks must feed for at least 24 hours before they pose a risk. The best defense is thoroughly checking your body after walking or playing in areas where ticks dwell.

Where there are deer, there are ticks and they are plentiful throughout Rock Creek Park and other natural urban areas, like along the C&O Canal. Be vigilant and check yourself throughout the day when working, hiking or playing outdoors.

Tick environments include but are not limited to leaf litter, woodpiles, birdbaths and feeders, forests, tall grasses and high weeds, moist areas and cat and dog fur.

Everyone should familiarize themselves with initial symptoms – onset of a red bull’s-eye rash, fever, headache, flu-like symptoms and fatigue. If untreated, Lyme disease can become a serious illness, causing joint stiffness and neurological problems. Symptoms can take from three to 32 days to appear. Sometimes early signs never appear or go unnoticed. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are the best cure.

It was first identified in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut. With approximately 20,000 new cases diagnosed yearly, the CDC (www.cdc.gov) reports that Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S., occurring mostly in Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and North-Central states.

Nymphs are infectious when they acquire the bacteria from the larval stage. The nymph stage is when most infections occur in humans because the tick can barely be detected. The male is black and the female dark reddish, like a speck of dirt that doesn't brush off.

The number of tick and insect repellents available has increased, including botanicals such as BugBand (www.bugband.net). An informative brochure is available through the State of NY, Department of Health, on Tick and Insect Repellents, (www.health.ny.gov/publications/2737.pdf). DEET, permethrin and botanicals are discussed. I prefer botanicals, although sometimes DEET may be necessary in areas of high concentrations of ticks, but never at more than a 25% solution. Another repellent sometimes used in place of DEET is picaridin.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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