Lyme disease cases up in Washington Co.

Health Dept. offers tips to prevent the illness

June 30, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION

Washington County is seeing a high number of possible Lyme disease cases this year, and the Washington County Health Department is offering people tips on how to protect themselves from the disease that can cause symptoms ranging from fatigue to severe headaches.

Since May, there have been 50 possible cases of Lyme disease, according to a health department news release.

Health department spokesman Roderick MacRae said the reason health department officials refer to the number of Lyme disease cases as "possible" is because of how the disease is diagnosed. Lyme disease can be diagnosed through a laboratory test, MacRae said, but cases that are not diagnosed through a lab test are classified as probable cases, MacRae said.

The 50 possible cases in the county is a high number since the summer season has just begun, MacRae said. Summer and spring are the seasons when the chances of acquiring a tick-borne illness are greatest, he said.


Last year, there were 87 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease, according to MacRae. In 2008, there were 54 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease, he said.

MacRae said the western part of the county was seeing a higher number of Lyme disease cases this year. A doctor in that part of the county said he was seeing about two to three cases a day, MacRae said.

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.

The first sign of a Lyme disease infection is usually a circular rash that begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of three to 30 days. A distinctive feature of the rash is that it gradually expands over a period of several days, reaching up to 12 inches across, according to the news release.

The center of the rash might clear as it enlarges, resulting in a bull's-eye appearance. It might be warm but it usually is not painful. Some patients develop additional, similar rashes in other areas of the body after several days, the release said.

Health department officials are not overly concerned about the disease in the western part of the county because there might be several factors that would cause a higher number of cases in a certain region, MacRae said.

Those factors might be that a community is more focused on the disease or that there might be people in a community who are more eager to seek treatment, he said.

Lyme disease is one of two tick-borne illnesses that health department officials are concerned about during the summer. The other is Rocky Mountain spotted fever, according to the release.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is one of the most severe tick-borne illnesses in the United States. It is a seasonal disease that occurs throughout the United States from April to September, the release said.

Lyme disease, while reported throughout the entire United States, is most common in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, the release said.

Protecting yourself from ticks

Limiting exposure to ticks reduces the likelihood of infection with tick-borne diseases, according to the Washington County Health Department.

For people exposed to tick-infested habitats, prompt careful inspection and removal of crawling or attached ticks is an important method of preventing disease, the health department said.

It is unreasonable to assume that a person can completely eliminate activities that might result in tick exposure, but the following precautions can help protect people from ticks:

o Wear light-colored clothing, which allows you to see ticks that are crawling on your clothes. Tuck your pants legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up the inside of your pants legs.

o Apply repellents to discourage ticks. Repellents containing permethrin can be sprayed on boots and clothing, and will last for several days. Repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) can be applied to the skin, but will last only a few hours before reapplication is necessary. Use DEET with caution on children.

o Conduct a body check upon returning from potentially tick-infested areas by searching your entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Remove any tick you find on your body. Check children for ticks, especially in the hair, when returning from potentially tick-infested areas.

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