Combating Scourge of Tick-Borne Diseases
More cases of Lyme disease are reported than any other vector-borne disease in the United States. As Groton residents know too well, the disease is rampant in this area. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 29,959 confirmed cases and 8509 probable cases of Lyme disease in the United States in 2009; most of these cases were reported from the Northeast and upper Midwest. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi which infects people when they are bitten by an infected blacklegged tick.
Ticks (including species other than the blacklegged tick) can also transmit diseases other than Lyme disease, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, erlichiosis, anaplasmosis, Colorado tick fever, and Powassan encephalitis. Tick bites are usually painless and patients who develop tick-borne illnesses do not always remember being bitten. You don't need to be in the woods to encounter ticks. They can be everywhere, including in your own back yard.
The CDCP advises residents that as they spend more time outdoors in summer, they should take all steps possible to prevent tick bites and reduce the risk of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Gardening, camping, hiking, and just playing outdoors are all great summertime activities but tick prevention-and early treatment if bitten-is essential these days.
Ticks feed on deer and birds. Mice also play a role in maintaining tick populations and the disease bacterias they carry.
Another Disease Increasing
In Groton in addition to the well-documented pervasiveness of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis is being contracted more and more often, and this has Groton veterinarian Dr. Susan Horowitz especially concerned. Anaplasmosis can affect both humans and animals and is caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilium. The first symptoms of anaplasmosis typically begin within one-two weeks after the bite of an infected tick. The following is a list of symptoms commonly seen with this disease. However, it is important to note that few people with the disease will develop all symptoms, and the number and combination of symptoms varies greatly from person to person.
Typical anaplasmosis symptoms include: fever, headache, chills, and muscle aches. Also nausea and/or abdominal pain may be present. Usually, these symptoms occur within one-two weeks of a tick bite. Anaplasmosis is initially diagnosed based on symptoms and clinical presentation, and later confirmed by use of specialized laboratory tests. The first line treatment for adults and children of all ages is doxycycline. People need to pay careful attention as anaplasmosis can be a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people. Severe clinical presentations may include difficulty breathing, hemorrhage, renal failure or neurological problems. Patients who are treated early may recover quickly on outpatient medication, while those who experience a more severe course may require intravenous antibiotics, prolonged hospitalization or intensive care.
Acorns Play a Role
On June 13, WCVB - Channel 5 highlighted the problem with Lyme and associated diseases in Massachusetts. According to their report, Massachusetts Department of Public Health veterinarian Catherine Brown said that between 2010 and 2011, the DPH actually saw a doubling in the number of cases of both babesiosis and anaplasmosis. The story pointed out that acorns could play a role in the continuation and life cycle of these diseases. Two years ago there were fewer acorns and this meant there were almost no mice for ticks to feed on. Brown said that this year, however, we are going to see that mice population start to come back up again and they're going to be looking to us for food sources in addition to acorns.
Reduce Your Risk
According to the CDC, there are several tactics you and your family can use to prevent tick bites and reduce your risk of tick-borne disease.
Know where to expect ticks. Blacklegged ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas. You may come into contact with ticks during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through vegetation such as leaf litter or shrubs. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails. Caution should be used in areas where there are heavy deer populations as they are the feeding source for the adult ticks.
Use a repellent with DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (on clothing and gear). Products containing permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear which can remain protective through several washings. Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET can be applied to the skin, and they can protect up to several hours. Always follow product instructions! Parents should apply repellents to their children, taking care to avoid application to hands, eyes, and mouth.
Perform Daily Tick Checks. Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Conduct a body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas by searching your entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Take special care to check these parts of your body and your child's body for ticks:
Under the arms
In and around the ears
Inside belly button
Back of the knees
In and around all head and body hair
Between the legs
Around the waist
Also, check clothing and pets for ticks. Ticks may be carried into the house on clothing and pets. Both should be examined carefully, and any ticks that are found should be removed. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks.
What to Do If Bitten
Remove an attached tick using fine-tipped tweezers as soon as you notice it. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme and other diseases is extremely small. But to be safe, watch for signs or symptoms of Lyme disease such as rash or fever, and see a healthcare provider if these develop.
If you save a tick in a plastic zip lock bag, you can have it tested by sending to:
UMass Extension Diagnostic Lab Tick Assessment
Agricultural Engineering Building
250 Natural Resources Way
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
Cost is $40/tick for species identification and testing for the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. A submission form from the website must be included with the sample.
Removal Kits Available
At the Groton Herald
There is an effective implement for removing ticks once they are discovered. It consists of a small magnifier and a simple tool that slides under the tick to ensure that the head is removed, both on a small keychain. There is also a small booklet containing tick information. Thanks to Groton resident and Tick Activist Jayme Kulesz, these tick removers are available at The Groton Herald office, 161 Main St. for $4. Come in during business hours Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. to pick them up.