2006-04-13 / News

Tips to avoid Lyme disease

By Nancy Crawford

Spring is here, and with it comes the awakening of the dreaded tick, those ugly creatures that lurk in the woods and lawns, just waiting, perhaps, to give us Lyme disease. Here in Jamestown we live in a part of New England that boasts the highest incidence per population of Lyme disease in the United States. And the months of May, June and July are the most vulnerable for us to be bitten by the ticks. And everyone seems to be worried about Lyme disease. So what can we all do about it?

There is no "magic cure" for Lyme disease. If treated promptly, the disease can be expected to be mild in most people. But for a minority it can be a serious, lifelong disease with debilitating consequences. The best treatment available, therefore, is to avoid getting bit by the ticks that cause Lyme disease.

So what can we do to avoid these ticks, and still live our lives? Ticks flourish in dark, shady areas. Here are some suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

+ Keep the lawn mowed.

+ Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn.

+ If you have children or pets, restrict the use of groundcovers such as pachysandra, as they harbor ticks.

+ Remove brush and leaves around stonewalls and wood piles.

+Discourage rodent activity. White footed mice, of which Jamestown has hundreds, are essential in the life cycles of these ticks.

+ Move wood piles and bird feeders away from your house.

+ Keep your cats and dogs out of the woods, and please speak to your veterinarian about tick-repellant medications for them.

+ Use plantings that discourage deer from coming into your yard.

+Consider fencing in your yard if you have a lot of wildlife visitors.

+Move children's swing sets and sand boxes away from the woodland edge and place them on a foundation of woodchips or mulch. The ticks will be repelled by these.

+ Trim back the branches and let the sun into your yard as much as possible. Recent research has shown that by creating a 3-foot or wider border of wood chips, mulch, or even gravel will greatly reduce the number of ticks in your yard as they will not cross over these.

+ Widen sidewalks so that bushes do not touch you when you walk on them.

+ Finally, consult with a reputable landscaping company about the possibility of using pesticides to control the ticks in your yard. While this is a controversial solution, it has been proven to be very effective. So consult a professional before using anything chemical in your yards. A very good informational guide can be found at www.caes.state.ct.us/specialfeatures/ti ckhandbook.pdf.

But we still need to go outside, so what else can we do? Whole-body tick checks at least every 24 hours are essential. Ticks can be very small, the size of a pinhead, and they can be easily missed. Invest in an inexpensive magnifying glass, and use it on your tick checks. Most ticks are picked up on your legs and then crawl up your body so start on the legs. Especially check your children after they have been playing outdoors. Some parents swear by the net "bath" balls sold at drugstores to catch ticks on the skin. Inspect your pets if they have been outdoors. Dress your children and yourself in light-colored clothing, wear long pants outdoors, and tuck your pants into your socks. If you are into hiking or walking in the woods, check out the chemical repellants that can be used on clothing. Some outdoor clothing stores even sell clothing that has been treated with such repellants. Again, check the labels to see if they are appropriate for your use. Deet in certain proportions can be used to repel ticks on your skin, but read the labels for the appropriate concentrations and use with extreme caution on children under the age of 10.

What if you have been bitten by a tick? First of all, do not panic. There are many ticks out there that do not cause Lyme disease. It is important, however, to remove the tick immediately. Ticks must be attached to your skin for 24 hours to cause Lyme disease. Use tweezers to remove the tick as close to the skin as possible. Do not attempt to suffocate the tick with Vaseline or other preparations. This can cause the tick to burrow in deeper. Avoid crushing the tick's body. Clean the area with an antiseptic after removal. Consult your family doctor for further advice.

The symptoms of Lyme disease are varied in severity and description. Typically they can mimic flu-like symptoms: fever, aches and pains in joints, fatigue, headache, and/or swollen lymph nodes. About 50 percent of those with Lyme disease will develop a characteristic rash, which often resembles a bull's-eye. This rash and the symptoms can occur up to one month after you have been bitten. If you develop any of these symptoms, consult your family doctor concerning the possibility of Lyme disease. Untreated, Lyme disease can have serious health consequences.

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