2006-06-01 / News

Tips to prevent Lyme disease

By Sam Bari

The Jamestown Shores Association invited island tick expert Nancy Crawford to give a speech on Lyme disease prevention at their regular monthly meeting last Wednesday, May 24.

Crawford, who has contracted Lyme disease twice in her life, is a nurse who has studied the perils of the sometimes-deadly infection that is spread primarily by deer ticks. She has initiated a personal crusade to inform and educate island residents about the seriousness of the disease and how to take preventive measures for pets as well as people.

Crawford gave the speech to approximately 30 members and guests of the Jamestown Shores Association. When she said that Rhode Island led the nation with the highest percentage of Lyme disease per capita, the small audience paid close attention to every word she said. Although Crawford published an article in the Press, and is responsible for the distribution of Lyme disease literature, and encouraging the town's Wildlife Committee, of which she is a member, to promote education concerning Lyme disease, she brought new information to the table. She constantly attends seminars and keeps abreast of the latest research concerning the infection.

"Insurance companies are bound by law to pay for treatment of Lyme disease," she said. This was comforting news to residents who knew that treatment could be costly. Several asked about blood tests, in case they suspect that they might be infected. "PCR which stands for Polymerase chain reaction is a blood test that is expensive, but effective," she said. She advised audience members to consult their doctor if they suspected that they might be infected. "Most cases, if caught in time, are not severe," she said. "A tick must be attached to the skin for a minimum of 24 hours before you can contract the disease," she added. "Although a thorough body check is recommended whenever you go outside, if you do find a tick attached to your skin, that does not mean the tick is infected. Most are not, but there is no way of telling just by looking at them," she continued.

A member of the audience asked how many ticks were produced when they bred. Everyone was shocked when Crawford's answer was "1,000 to 1,800 whenever eggs are hatched." She went on to say that the ticks also live for two years. An unidentified woman in the audience said that she was being treated for the disease. She learned of her infection after visiting her doctor because she suffered flu-like symptoms, wandering eyes, dizziness, and headaches. She didn't get a rash until after she suffered the aforementioned symptoms.

Crawford handed out literature and gave specific instructions on how to minimize the number of ticks in yards, prevent ticks from getting on the skin, and how to give children, pets, and adults total body inspections.

She also offered the audience some suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that were previously published in her article in the Press:

+ 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 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. Ticks will not cross over these surfaces.

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

+ 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.

An informational guide can be found at www.caes.state.ct.us/specialfeatures/ tickhandbook.pdf.

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