July is here and so is the peak of Lyme season.
Last year more than 5,800 cases of Lyme disease were confirmed in the state of New York by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Lyme disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by the bite of a black legged deer tick, no larger than the size of a poppy seed. If a bite is left untreated it can lead to memory loss, joint pains, paralysis and in some cases heart block. Pregnant women with Lyme disease can miscarry.
The lifespan of a tick is two years with three feeding stages: larvae, nymph and adult. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on small animals during the summer and fall which is the time they can become infected with bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
The larvae lay dormant until the following spring when they grow into nymphs seeking blood meals to grow into an adult. July is the peak season the nymphs are active. The ticks feed again by attaching to a host, such as you, and the bacteria is transmitted into your bloodstream.
Ticks will attach themselves anywhere but tend to seek out the area where the blood supply is the greatest such as the scalp, armpits, or groin. A tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before Lyme disease can be transmitted. Once the tick has fed, the body becomes engorged and the tick falls off. Since the bite is painless, often times a person is not even aware they have been bitten so it is essential to always check for ticks, especially if you are camping or at the beach.
Lyme disease symptoms fall into three stages: early, middle and late. The early stage occurs three days to one month after being bitten. The person will experience flu like symptoms including fever, chills, stiff neck, headache, muscle aches and joint pain. The classic bull’s eye rash can be seen during this time but not always.
The middle stage occurs one to four months after the bite with painful and swollen joints. People experience arthritis type symptoms which migrate but the knees are the most affected. The inability to concentrate and facial paralysis can also occur at this stage.
The late stage of Lyme disease can slow the heart down and cause a person to have dizziness and shortness of breath and at times require them to have a pacemaker.
Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics when recognized and diagnosed early.
When going outside this summer here are some safety tips:
- Stay off dunes and away from high grassy areas and wooded areas where ticks breed
- Wear light colored clothes and long sleeves and slacks if you are in wooded areas so you can see the ticks
- Keep your hair pulled back and wear a hat
- Use insect repellent with 20-30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing and 10 percent DEET for children to prevent bites
- Treat your clothes, especially pants, socks and shoes with Permethrin which kills ticks on contact but NEVER use this on your skin
- Treat your pets with tick solution and check them carefully for ticks before they enter your house
- Check yourself and children daily for ticks and shower daily to eliminate any loose ticks
- If you find a tick use fine tweezers, grasp the head and pull the tick upward, never crush the body which will introduce bacteria into your bloodstream. Clean the area with an antiseptic and see your doctor and try to save the tick for identification.
For further information on Lyme disease visit www.lyme.org or call 1-800-886-5963.