MASSENA - A summer walk in the woods is an excellent way to say goodbye to the blahs. But no matter how warm the temperature, make sure you leave the shorts and sandals at home.
One of the most dangerous creatures you’ll encounter in the woods at this time of year is the deer tick, about the size of a poppy seed but able to bring about rather severe symptoms now known as Lyme disease.
Massena Memorial Hospital’s Infectious Disease Physician, Dr. Diana Christensen is offering a free community seminar on Lyme disease; to learn more about the signs, symptoms and treatment of the disease. The program will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Massena Memorial Hospital board room.
Dr. Christensen will talk about Lyme Disease and what you need to know; such as:
• How it’s spread
• Where it’s found
• How it’s prevented
• How it’s diagnosed
• How it’s treated
Lyme disease is an infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, passed on to humans by a tick, usually a deer tick. The disease includes not only a characteristic rash but fever, headache, stiff neck, body aches and fatigue. If left untreated, the disease can progress to persistent, sometimes chronic, symptoms such as fatigue, arthritis, heart or nerve problems (sometimes including partial facial paralysis) and even disturbances of memory and attention.
First identified among children living near Lyme, Conn., in 1975, Lyme disease is believed to have existed in Europe many years earlier and became more prevalent in the United States with the increase in the deer population and the influx of suburbia into rural, wooded areas. Incidence of the disease is increasing fairly rapidly in this country, with the number of cases nearly doubling from 1991 to 2000. It has now been identified in virtually every state, although 95 percent of cases still occur in 12 where deer ticks are most prevalent-Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Ticks pick up the bacteria from the blood of mice, other mammals or birds, then spend much of their adult life on deer, before dropping off in late winter to lurk on grass blades or fallen leaves. Ticks are particularly fond of places where the woods and grasslands merge, and those, of course, are good areas for spring outings.
There’s no need to worry about deer ticks jumping or flying at you or dropping on you from tree limbs; humans usually pick them up at the level of the knee or below. Once it’s on the human body, the tick then crawls to a more secure location on the torso, often on the back of the neck or the hairline.
Children and older adults are most at risk of Lyme disease, but anyone spending time in wooded habitats of states with high populations of deer ticks can be infected. That includes not just hikers and campers but those who walk or run on wooded trails and even golfers who send an occasional shot into the rough.
When detected early, Lyme disease is readily treated with antibiotics, but an even better approach is to keep the ticks off from the beginning.
If you can’t avoid the places where deer ticks might be lurking, you should be sure to keep your skin covered, particularly your legs and feet. Wear closed shoes, long sleeved shirts and pants that fit snugly at the ankles. Some hikers even tape their pant legs closed or clamp pet tick collars around their ankles. Ticks show up better on light-colored clothing.
Before venturing out, spray insect repellant containing DEET on exposed skin except for the face, following the instructions, of course, for safety. Clothing can be sprayed with the insecticide permethrin.
After your walk, shower as soon as possible and wash your clothing. Although water will not necessarily kill ticks, it may wash them away, and spin drying at high temperatures will kill them.
Even if a tick attaches itself to you, your risk of infection is estimated at less than two percent. Nevertheless, check your skin carefully several times a day and before going to bed. Areas preferred by ticks include the belt line, just under the breasts, around the arm pits and groin and above the hair line. Because they are so small, ticks are hard to spot and easily mistaken for a freckle or a speck of dirt.
Remove any ticks you find with fine¬tipped tweezers, grasping the tick firmly as close to the skin as possible and pulling gently without squeezing the tick’s body. Mouth parts of the tick left in the skin should not transmit disease, and you may cause more damage to the skin trying to get every piece out. Be sure to wash the area thoroughly and then apply antiseptic.
The characteristic skin rash of Lyme disease, known as erythema migrans, starts as a small red spot at the site of the bite, expanding over a period of days or weeks to form a circular or oval shape resembling a bull’s eye. It can range in size from a dime to the entire width of a person’s back. Only about 80 percent of Lyme disease patients, however, have a rash.
The flu-like symptoms of early Lyme disease are more likely to be persistent or to recur intermittently compared to those of a viral infection. If necessary and administered early enough, antibiotic treatment is usually sufficient to head off long-term complications.
On a beautiful spring day, it’s a shame to have your outdoor pleasures spoiled by fear of tiny creatures lurking in the undergrowth. But if you live in an area that could be inhabited by deer or deer ticks, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Please join us at the MMH’s Community Seminar on Lyme Disease and what you need to know, Tuesday, July 22 at 6:30 p.m. To pre-register, please call MMH Public Relations office at 769-4262.