Lyme Disease more than ticks up

The number of cases of Lyme Disease in Saratoga County has skyrocketed; county health officials advise caution and protective clothing   

BY BARBARA COOK
barbara@theballstonjournal.com

As warmer weather approaches, people will be spending more time outdoors. Before enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, precautions should be taken to avoid ticks and the possibility of contracting Lyme disease.

Incidents of Lyme disease have skyrocketed in Saratoga County, according to Karen Levison, director of Public Health. She said the number of cases reported to the health department in 2011 was 183, up from 139 in 2010.

This deer tick was found on Ballston Spa Veterinarian Danica Salamun's jacket after a walk in Spa Park in February. Photo provided

The most important thing is for people to protect themselves, Levison said. Wearing light colored clothing so ticks can be spotted is crucial. A long-sleeved shirt with long pants tucked into socks or enclosed shoes will help prevent ticks from getting to the skin.

Lyme disease is spread by deer ticks, although the ticks themselves don’t contract the disease. Even adult deer ticks are extremely tiny, about the size of a sesame seed. Young deer ticks are about the size of a poppy seed. Deer ticks can be active anytime the temperature is above freezing.

The disease is spread when an infected tick bites a person and stays attached for an extended period of time, usually at least 36 hours. If a tick is found attached to the skin it should be removed with tweezers, taking care not to squeeze or crush the body. The site should be thoroughly disinfected and hands washed.

There are many symptoms of Lyme disease, the most common being a bull’s eye rash, two or more inches in diameter, at the site of the tick bite. Other early symptoms include chills and fever, headache, stiff neck, fatigue, muscle and joint pain and swollen glands. If left untreated, symptoms become more severe.

Early symptoms appear within three to 30 days after the bite. Doctors are advised to begin treatment right away if symptoms are present, especially the bull’s eye rash, Levison said.

Treatment varies depending on the patient and the medical history, but often includes antibiotics. Since Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, even after successful treatment a person can contract it again if bitten by an infected tick.

There is no human vaccine against Lyme disease, but there is one for dogs. Levison said dog owners should have their pets vaccinated. “I can’t imagine having a little poodle or something with dark hair and trying to look for the ticks,” she said.

Daniel Butler, Supervisor of the Saratoga County Animal Shelter, agreed. “There are other vaccines, but today the most important ones are rabies, distemper and parvo, for sure,” he said. “Lyme has to be added into that yearly vaccination schedule.”

At the animal shelter, 762 dogs were tested in 2011 for heartworm, Lyme disease and Ehrlichia, another tick-borne disease. Only two dogs tested positive for Ehrlichia and 19 for heartworm, but 357 tested positive for Lyme disease.

Several types of tick preventatives are available for dogs and do not require a prescription. Thoroughly checking the animal after being outside can also lead to detection and early removal of ticks before they have a chance to spread disease.

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs can include lethargy, arthritis, fever, fatigue and kidney damage. A blood test is used to determine whether an animal is infected.

Treatment for dogs can include antibiotics and painkillers for the arthritis symptoms.

Butler said he has never seen a cat infected with Lyme disease, although they attract ticks as much as dogs do. “I don’t understand why,” he said. “A body’s a body, whether it’s human or animal.”

On Levison’s advice, the New York State Health Department website was used for some information in this article. The site is updated frequently and is available in several languages. For information, visit www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/lyme.

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