Outdoors - Lyme disease a real threat in our area

June 12, 2005|by BILL ANDERSON

Lyme disease has been a fact of life in our region for many years now. In case you do not know the history, the disease is named for an outbreak back in the late 1970s in Lyme, Conn.

As most people now know, Lyme disease is spread by ticks. Symptoms seem to vary a great deal, but are often described as "flu-like." Lyme can also cause pain in various joints and, according to the Center for Disease Control, can cause all kinds of very serious or even fatal problems if untreated.

The CDC reports that more than 23,000 cases were reported nationally in 2002, and they feel that this is very under-reported. This part of the country is in the high-incident area.

What may not be as well known is that Lyme is now quite common in dogs - particularly the field breeds. If you have a dog that is outdoors a lot, the chances are high that it will be exposed.


A friend of mine recently told me the story of his field trial beagle that was acting sluggish and was eventually diagnosed with Lyme. As it turned out, all three of his dogs, including his wife's poodle which is rarely outside, were found to have Lyme.

There is an approved vaccine for dogs, and most vets highly recommend it in our region. There is currently no approved vaccine for humans.

Early on, one of the biggest problems with Lyme was identifying it because the symptoms are very similar to many other medical problems. But in our area, the medical community is now quite aware that Lyme is common, and they know to check for this disease when problems are reported by patients. If identified early, Lyme is treated with oral antibiotic medications.

The best way of handling Lyme disease is to try to avoid contact with the ticks that carry it. If you are often in the field, you can reduce your exposure with long clothing and by tucking your pants into your boots. The literature also recommends long-sleeve shirts and tight cuffs if you can stand them when it is hot and humid.

The CDC and other organizations also recommend using insect repellents. The CDC says the risk of tick attachment can be greatly reduced by applying insect repellents to clothes and exposed skin. Pet owners can use the various tick repellents and collars available for dogs and cats.

There is a lot of good information on Lyme disease available on the Web. One of the best sites to start with is the CDC's at:

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoor column for The Herald-Mail.

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