PLATTSBURGH — Although the lazy days of summer are rapidly coming to an end, the reality of Lyme disease will remain for some weeks to come.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread to humans by the bite of an infected deer tick. The adult tick is the size of a sesame seed and remains active in forests and fields until temperatures drop in late October or even early November.
Until then, the ticks are actively looking for hosts to provide them with a good meal.
"They are difficult to see because they are so tiny," said Karen Merrill, a public-health nurse for the Clinton County Health Department.
"Not all deer ticks carry Lyme disease, but Lyme disease is prevalent in New York state. We need to focus on prevention and awareness."
GET RID OF IT QUICK
Deer ticks position themselves on vegetation, where they can hitch a ride with an animal or person passing by. They will then find a spot to feed off the host, often in such places as behind the knee — where they may not be spotted for days.
"It often takes two or three days (from the initial bite) for the tick to transmit illness," said Clinton County Public-Health Nurse Karen Plotas-McGrath.
"If you see a tick (on the body), it's important to remove the insect as quickly as possible."
Clinton County has seen an increase in confirmed cases of Lyme disease this year. In 2010, the county reported 11 positive cases, and that number jumped to 16 in both 2011 and 2012.
However, there are already confirmed 27 cases during the first half of 2013.
"We're just now getting into peak season," Plotas-McGrath noted.
Essex County, which saw more than 40 positive cases in 2009 before numbers dropped to 25 a year later, has seen increased activity as well.
"We have seen a significant increase in confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Essex County and most especially in the Champlain Valley," said Linda Beers, public-health director for the Essex County Health Department.
"We encourage people to take simple steps to prevent contracting Lyme disease."
In Franklin County, 15 cases have been confirmed this year as opposed to 10 for the same time period in 2012.
"Our sense in the county is that there is more awareness and testing occurring, so we cannot assume there is more disease occurring in the county," said Kathleen Strack, director for the Franklin County Health Department.
SHOWER OR BATHE
Steps to prevent infection include wearing light-colored clothing with long sleeves and pant legs to make it easier to spot and remove ticks and to wear insect repellents according to manufacturer's instructions.
If a tick is found attached to the skin, the preferred removal method is to grasp it with fine-point tweezers close to where the insect is attached and pull straight up. That will help prevent the tick from regurgitating any fluids infected with bacteria into the host's blood supply, Plotas-McGrath explained.
Anyone who has traveled into areas that may harbor deer ticks, including backyards that may be adjacent to forestland or may be visited by white-tailed deer, should always check themselves for any possible unwanted hitch-hikers. People can also have loved ones check the areas they cannot visibly search for ticks themselves.
"The best prevention is to shower or bathe when you come inside," Merrill said. "Place any clothing in the laundry; don't put it back on after bathing."
EARLY TREATMENT KEY
Lyme disease symptoms include the well-known bulls-eye rash that can be at the site of infection as well as other locations on the body. Fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and joint pain are other symptoms of a recent infection.
"Sometimes, people have symptoms without seeing the rash," Merrill said. "If you believe you may have been exposed (to Lyme disease), contact your physician immediately."
Doctors can prescribe antibiotics that will cure the infection before more serious complications occur. However, if an infection is not taken care of, more serious problems such as arthritis, neurological damage and heart issues may develop over time.
The Centers for Disease Control has seen a tremendous increase in reported cases of Lyme disease over the last several years. Recent research has identified as many as 300,000 annual reported cases nationwide.
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