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Health Director: Fresh Crop Of Tick Bite Victims

Standing outside the local referendum voting place April 23 promoting the BLAST program to help protect residents from tick bites and the possible association with tickborne illnesses, Health District Director Donna Culbert was approached by several residents who had already been bitten by ticks this year.

And with the gradual creeping up of temperatures, folks heading out to enjoy the spring weather and doing yard work, Ms Culbert is confident she will be hearing from a lot more tick bite victims in the coming weeks. The prospect that at least of few of those tick hosts will contract some sort of tickborne disease is unfortunately a statistical certainty.

“Tickborne disease isn’t just Lyme disease,” Ms Culbert told The Newtown Bee this week. “It isn’t ‘ho-hum, tell me something new,’ and it isn’t ‘so what, I might have to take antibiotics for a few weeks.’ Ticks and tickborne disease aren’t going away, so its up to individuals to take action.”

With no available effective vaccine and no consistently efficient and comprehensive method to reduce ticks, the health district official believes that understanding the risks and avoiding tick bites are key steps to preventing tickborne disease.

“Tickborne diseases can be serious business; we keep learning more about them, and there are more diseases to learn about,” she said. “One single tick bite can transmit more than one disease agent.

“As health director, I struggle with the conflict of encouraging residents to get outside, enjoy all of the healthy outdoor opportunities we have here in beautiful Newtown, as well as experiencing what I think of as a more spiritual connection that can take place when we spend time outdoors, versus me sounding the perpetual alarm to diligently take precautions to avoid ticks bites,” she added.

According to Ms Culbert, there are several tickborne diseases that require residents’ attention so they can take appropriate action to protect themselves.

“It’s not just Lyme anymore, and Lyme is bad enough. There is a new tickborne infection that shares many similarities with Lyme disease, but its so new it doesn’t have a name yet,” she said.

The bacterium is called Borrelia miyamotoi. Many of the symptoms are similar to Lyme disease, and patients may also experience other symptoms such as relapsing fever. Blood tests for Lyme will not detect infection with B. miyamotoi, but the antibiotic treatment should be the same as for Lyme disease.

“There are several other tickborne diseases that have become more prevalent in recent years that many folks are familiar with; however, many still are not,” Ms Culbert explained. “Anaplasmosis is a tickborne disease caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum and, in our region, is transmitted primarily from the black legged tick also known as the deer tick.”

It was previously known as human granulocytic ehrlichiosis and has more recently been called human granulocytic anaplasmosis, she said. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea/abdominal pain, cough, and confusion.

Anaplasmosis can be a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly, even in previously healthy people, while Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells and are spread by certain ticks.

In the United States, tickborne transmission is most common in parts of the Northeast and usually peaks during the warm months. Babesia microti is transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged or deer tick.

Although many people who are infected by Babesia do not have symptoms, for those who do, effective treatment is available. Symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea and fatigue. Treatment for Babesiosis is different than other tickborne disease.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted through the bite of infected black-legged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans.

It is known that many patients do not develop the rash or do not detect it. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is a tickborne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii and is transmitted by the bite of the American dog tick, the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the brown dog tick. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain.

A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days and in some patients, never develops. RMSF can be a severe or even fatal illness if not treated promptly.

“Remember, one tick can transmit more than one disease. Such an event is called co-infection,” Ms Culbert said. “All the more reason to take precautions to prevent tick bites.”

Promoting BLAST Message

The Health District encourages residents to learn about ticks and tick bite prevention and to remember its BLAST message. BLAST stands for five important things residents and family members can do to stay safe from tickborne diseases.

It is important to be aware of the risks of tickborne disease. Everyone should understand that Newtown is within an area where Lyme and other tickborne diseases are widespread. Education and awareness will greatly improve the ability of all residents to prevent tickborne disease.

B stands for bathing soon after spending time outdoors. A recent study showed that people who bathed or showered within two hours of coming indoors did not contract Lyme disease as frequently as those who did not bathe or shower soon.

L reminds everyone to look their bodies over for ticks daily and remove them properly. Speedy removal helps avoid disease transmission. L also reminds us to look for expanding rashes and report them to a physician in a timely manner.

A encourages you to avoid ticks when possible, and when you cannot, to become educated about repellants and apply them appropriately. Know where ticks live and avoid those areas. Ticks do not like sunny, dry areas; they like shade, shelter and moisture. Ticks can be found in leaf litter, shaded gardens, weeds, tall grass, shrubs, low trees, and ground cover like pachysandra.

Apply repellent. Studies have shown that applying 30-40 percent DEET-based repellant to skin is effective at repelling ticks. The use of repellants, while proven effective, is a personal decision. For more information on tick repellants, visit the National Pesticide Information Center’s website at npic.orst.edu

S stands for safeguarding yards to reduce possible tick exposure. Spraying the yard can reduce tick abundance. Complete information on tick management is available at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station website, www.ct.gov/case. Again, the use of pesticide is a personal decision.

Additional safeguards include creating a Tick-Safe Zone, in which homeowners manages their yard to make it less hospitable to ticks, by doing the following: remove leaf litter, clearing tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edges of lawns, and placing woodchips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas, among other options.

Deer play an important role in the tick’s lifecycle, often serving as the third and final blood meal. Deer should be discouraged from entering your yard by using deer-resistant plantings. Also, residents should not feed deer.

The Health District has a brochure that can guide homeowners with making changes in their yards.

T reminds everyone about treatment. In general, people who begin medical treatment soon after becoming infected have a quicker and more complete recovery from Lyme and other tickborne disease. Learning to recognize the symptoms and receiving early medical treatment will help to prevent more serious illness. Erythema migrans (EM) is a rash and can be the first symptom of Lyme disease. Not everyone gets or sees the rash.

Other symptoms can include fever, headache, stiff neck, body aches, and tiredness. Lyme disease can also affect the nervous system, causing symptoms such as stiff neck, severe headache (meningitis), temporary paralysis of the facial muscles (Bell’s palsy), numbness, pain or weakness in the limbs and poor muscle movement. Other more serious long-term affects may include memory loss, difficulty with concentration, and change in mood or sleep habits.

Less commonly, people who have not taken antibiotics may develop other problems weeks, months, or even years after they were infected with Lyme bacteria. Receiving early medical treatment is the key to preventing long term health effects.

It is also important to treat your pets. Local veterinarians offer a variety of methods for protecting animals from tickborne diseases. Dogs and cats increase one’s chances of exposure to tickborne disease. Pets can carry ticks in to the home on their fur. Pet owners should be cautious about sleeping with their pets.

For additional information on ticks and tickborne disease prevention, contact the Newtown Health District. Phone 203-270-4291 or e-mail donna.culbert@newtown-ct.gov

Bait Box Study Seeking Local Participants

The Connecticut Emerging Infections Program, the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are conducting a study to investigate whether tickborne diseases can be prevented with the use of bait boxes, a rodent-targeted method of tick control.

The bait boxes hold bait attractive to mice and an insecticide effective against ticks. The bait attracts the mice living on and around your property to the bait boxes. As the mouse moves through a box to get to the bait, it will pass under a small applicator wick containing a low-dose insecticide, fipronil.

Fipronil is the active ingredient in many of the popular topical flea and tick control products (e.g., Frontline).

The groups are seeking participants who are at least 18 years old; have three or more people living in their home; have a freestanding home with a yard measuring between a half acre and 5 acres; will allow rodent bait boxes to be placed on their property; and will complete short surveys about ticks, their yard, and time spent outside.

Participants will receive up to $195 in gift cards for their time. Participation will also help scientists find better ways to prevent Lyme and other tickborne diseases.

To learn more about tickborne diseases and how to prevent them, call 855-BAITBOX or visit www.cdc.gov/ticknet/ltdps/ltdps_bait.html.

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