Health experts joined with local officials Wednesday for a press conference to warn Long Islanders about the increased risk of Lyme disease this summer. “Awareness and vigilance,” is what Dr. Janice Verley said people should practice.
Ticks have always been a concern in wooded areas of the Island. In fact, New York has the highest number of cases of Lyme disease in the country. But this year, experts say that hikers and people spending time outdoors should expect more of them. This means that there could also be an increase in cases of Lyme disease, which can cause serious symptoms.
According to NUMC, the increase in ticks is due to climate change causing warmer winters and oak trees to produce more acorns. The acorns, which field rodents eat, lead to an increase in the rodent population. And ticks feed on rodents, which transfer the Lyme disease bacteria to ticks. Then, when ticks bite humans, they transfer the disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control, while Lyme disease is not fatal, it can produce serious effects. Within the first 30 days of a tick bite, Lyme disease can cause fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes, as well as Erythema migrans (EM) rash. The rash occurs in the majority of people with Lyme disease, and usually appears about seven days after a tick bite. The rash gradually expands over a few days, reaching sizes of 12 inches or more. The center may clear, giving it a distinct “bulls-eye” appearance. Though it usually appears on the site of the tick bite, it can appear anywhere on the body.
Lyme disease can get worse if left untreated. Later-developing symptoms include:
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness.
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
- Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face).
- Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints and bones.
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat.
- Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath.
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
- Nerve pain.
- Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.
- Problems with short-term memory.
Lyme disease is spread primarily by deer ticks, which are incredibly small. An adult deer tick is a fraction the size of a dime, and can be very hard to spot, especially on dark-colored clothing or hair.
NUMC is setting up treatment centers for people who believe they have been bitten by ticks. However, it can take days or weeks for symptoms of Lyme disease to emerge. Verley suggested that if you or a loved once fears they may have Lyme disease to see your doctor. Blood tests for Lyme disease can only detect it in the later stages, she said, and the early symptoms could also be caused by other conditions.
However, you can take steps to protect yourself from the disease.
First, if possible, avoid wooded areas or areas with high grass. If you’re going to be hiking in the woods, stay in the center of the trail, if possible.If you’re going to be out and about outside, use a bug repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent DEET to keep ticks away.
After coming in from the outdoors, make sure to check your body for ticks. If you can’t have someone check, use a mirror to look in places you can’t see. Ticks especially like to crawl into hard-to-see places, like your scalp, behind your ears, inside the belly button and in the armpits and groin.
Verley suggested taking a shower after you come in to wash off any ticks that haven’t attached themselves yet.
Also make sure to examine your clothes, gear and pets. Ticks can latch onto these and crawl onto a person later.
If you find a tick has embedded itself in your skin, make sure to follow these guidelines for removing it. If removed improperly, the tick head can stay in your skin and still transmit the disease. Verley said that it usually takes 36 to 48 hours of a tick being attached to transmit Lyme disease. So if you get it off quickly, you should be fine.
Photo: US Department of Agriculture
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