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Contributed Graphic

The stages of deer ticks.

County 'Engulfed' By Lime Disease

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — August 24, 2007 — The deer tick doesn’t discriminate.
The miniscule insect will latch onto the young, the old, even the president.
President George Bush’s recent treatment for Lyme disease may have brought the tick to the national forefront, but Sullivan County residents have been hearing about it for years.
Since 1991 when Lyme became a nationally notifiable disease, tracked by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., Sullivan County has been keeping tabs on the numbers.
According to Carol Ryan, head of Sullivan County Public Health Nursing, educating the public about Lyme disease is part of the department’s mission to ensure.
Efforts were stepped up three to four years ago when the county secured a grant from the state to launch the “Be Tick Free” program that’s made RN Kyle Henry a household name.
Henry travels the county touting the tick-free lifestyle, singing on the radio, spelling out the tips for tick safe zones and handing out small kits with tick identification guides and tweezers perfect for grasping the bug at its mouth and removing it from the body.
His efforts and those of his coworkers have made a real impact on the health of Sullivan County residents, Ryan said.
The numbers are up – Lyme cases reported to public health have climbed from 16 per 10,000 residents in 2000 to 70 per 10,000 in 2005.
The reason for the spike isn’t clear.
Heightened awareness is clear, Ryan said, but whether the increased diagnoses are due to an increase in actual cases or the number of people who are heading to the doctor is hard to determine.
“When you look for something, you find it,” Ryan admitted. “But it’s also a fact that there is just more of it.”
What is clear, Henry added, is that Lyme is on the move.
“Sullivan County is fully engulfed,” he noted.
Discovered by a doctor in the town of Lyme, Conn., Lyme has had what appears to be a “migratory spread,” he explained.
The states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut still account for 75 percent of the cases in the entire nation, but it’s been reported as far away as Alaska.
In 2005, Alaskans reported four cases of Lyme to the CDC; 5,565 New Yorkers were treated for the same disease.
Carried by the deer tick, Lyme is a bacteria transferred to humans when the tick latches on to human skin.
That is the only means of transmission.
“It is not airborne; it is not waterborne; it isn’t mosquito borne,” Henry said.
Although not all deer ticks are infected, the small bugs have been scientifically proven to be the conduit spreading Lyme across the country.
According to Henry, it’s at the nymph and adult stages of the tick’s two-year life cycle when they pose a threat.
In areas like Sullivan County, 25 percent of the nymphs have been found to be infected with the Lyme bacteria, and they’re at their peak during summer.
About the size of a poppy seed, the nymphs are so small they often go unnoticed by their human hosts.
These factors have led health officials to blame the nymphs for the majority of human Lyme disease cases, Henry said.
The adults are just as dangerous, however, with 50 percent estimated to carry the Lyme spirochete.
Active in the fall, the adult ticks will climb up to 3 feet up a stalk of grass to latch onto its victim.
Sullivan County residents and visitors are prime hosts for ticks because they spend a great deal of time outdoors and around other tick victims, Ryan noted.
The term “deer tick” is a sort of misnomer, she explained.
Although they will latch onto a deer, the ticks are as likely to seek the family dog, a mouse or even a bird as its host.
Once it bites, the tick will stay attached to feed on the blood of its victim.
That gives people time to act, Ryan said.
Sullivan County Public Health Nursing advocates a daily tick check – caught early, Lyme disease can be prevented as the tick has to feast for almost 36 hours to transmit the spirochete.
Ticks should be removed with tweezers and can be taken to Public Health’s office in Liberty for identification to determine whether the insect is a deer tick or some other relative.
That’s become a popular resource, Henry said, bringing in more ticks for inspection this quarter than any in the past in Sullivan County.
If someone suspects they’ve contracted Lyme, Ryan advocates an immediate visit to their healthcare provider.
“Treat it early, and it’s completely curable,” she said. “And it’s often easy.”
Treated later, the ill effects on the body might be irreversible, she warned.
The large percentage of Lyme cases are marked by a large “bull’s eye” patch near the tick’s bite. Patients often have chills and fever, headaches, fatigue and aching joints.
If left untreated, the symptoms will only worsen. Chronic Lyme disease may cause severe fatigue, tingling or numbness of the appendages or facial paralysis.
Eventually, the disease will progress to the heart and central nervous system, causing irreparable damage.
Ryan said people should not wait that long.
Treatment with antibiotics will kill the spirochete, Ryan said.
That doesn’t mean someone can’t contract Lyme again, she warned.
Like the spirochete that causes syphilis, once the Lyme bacteria is killed by treatment it’s gone from the body. There is no immunity residual in the body.
Another tick bite would mean another trip to the doctor to be checked.
There’s also no vaccination currently on the market, and antibiotics will not prevent someone from contracting Lyme, Ryan warned.
“The best approach to Lyme is prevention,” she said. “People should check themselves when they’re out.”
Public Health also advocates wearing insect repellent to deter ticks and light clothing to allow for easy discovery of the dark-colored bugs.
Landscaping areas that see frequent traffic with stone barriers can also help keep ticks at bay.
For more information, call Sullivan County Public Health Nursing at 292-0100, ext. 1.

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