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'Tis the season for ticks

June 02, 1997

By SAMANTHA KRULEWITZ

Staff Writer

Tick season has arrived in Maryland with 67 more cases of Lyme disease reported this year through May 17 compared to the same period last year.

Dr. Robert Parker, Washington County Health Department's health officer, said the large increase is a result of the mild winter.

"Generally the tick season is in the warmer part of the year," Parker said. "If we have a warm spring you begin to see it earlier. In April and May you begin to be exposed to various stages of the tick and it continues on to the fall."

The tick that carries Lyme disease is the deer tick, not the tick that appears on dogs and other domestic animals, Parker said. The deer tick, the size of a pinhead, is mostly found in tall grass and deep brush, he said.

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Parker said only one of the 72 cases diagnosed in Maryland occurred in Washington County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that one of the first symptoms is a bull's-eye-shaped rash that appears around the tick bite.

The rash "appears usually three days to one month after the bite of an infected tick at the site of the bite," a CDC brochure warns. "The patch then expands, often to a large size . . . . The rash may be warm, but it usually is not painful."

He said other symptoms can be very painful.

Parker said it is important to know the symptoms of Lyme disease and to let a doctor know that a tick bite has occurred. Parker said there have been many cases where it has taken examinations by several doctors to diagnose Lyme disease.

"Lyme disease is more subtle - it doesn't kill you," he said.

But long-term symptoms include joint problems, central nervous system problems and in some cases, minor heart problems, Parker said. "These symptoms drag on for many days."

The CDC warns that in some cases the rash never develops. It is important to notice flu-like symptoms and brief bouts of pain and swelling in joints.

Parker said antibiotics can help treatment.

"In early treatment, it responds fairly well to antibiotics," Parker said. "These need to be taken for two weeks or more. Later on in the disease, antibiotics may have to be taken for a longer amount of time."

The Eastern Shore and Central Maryland have a larger population of ticks than does Washington County, Parker said. That, along with the larger population, accounts for the higher number of Lyme disease cases in those areas.

Both Parker and the CDC noted that antibiotic treatment to prevent Lyme disease after a tick bite may not be warranted.

"Lyme disease is mainly a clinical diagnosis - you really have to rely on what you observe and what the patient tells you," Parker said. "You have to try and find out if there is any history of exposure to ticks, then you look for signs and symptoms of Lyme disease."

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