Don’t Let Bugs Bug You This Summer

Stay safe from insect-borne illness

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

You have plenty of reasons to keep bugs from bugging you this summer.

Some, such as mosquitoes and ticks, can spread illnesses such as Lyme disease.

The New York State Department of Health states that per 100,000 in population, fewer than 62.9 cases of Lyme disease were reported in each of Erie and Niagara counties in 2017 (the most recent data available).

The counties are among the areas with lowest rates statewide. That at first seems like good news; however, reports of tick-borne disease cases reported has more than doubled statewide between 2004 and 2016, with increased rates heading westward across New York. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that the number of actual cases of Lyme disease in general is 10 times the number reported.

Michael R. Jorolemon, doctor of osteopathic medicine and senior quality officer for emergency medicine at Crouse Health, reported that in just one 10-hour shift recently, three people sought medical attention for ticks. And the season has only begun.

“If you see a tick on you, the best thing is to seek medical treatment,” Jorolemon said.

He advised heading to urgent care or the emergency room if the primary care provider is unavailable.

Lyme spreads as black deer ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria bite humans. Black deer ticks also spread less common diseases, such as babesiosis, human granulocytic, anaplasmosis and deer tick virus.

Other types of ticks also spread diseases by biting humans, but that scenario is rarer than Lyme disease. These include the American dog tick (Rocky Mountain spotted fever), Lone Star tick (human monocytic ehrlichiosis), and woodchuck/groundhog tick (powassan/encephalitis virus).

Only about half of adult deer ticks and one-third of nymphs carry bacteria that cause Lyme disease, named for Old Lyme, a town in Connecticut, where the disease was first identified in the 1970s. The ticks typically travel by waiting on tall grass for a passing host. Ticks can hitch a ride on wildlife to residential areas. Hikers, hunters, birders, and campers are at greater risk because they spend time in wooded areas.

If a tick has been stuck to a person for more than 36 hours, the patient should contact a health care provider to see if he qualifies for a prophylactic antibiotic to treat Lyme disease. The site of the bite shows a bull’s-eye patterned rash in about half the cases.

“If a tick is found, it needs to be removed to help decrease the chance of contracting a potential disease that is carrying,” Jorolemon said. “Often when people try other ways, the tick breaks off leaving a part embedded in them.”

Leaving the head or mouthparts of the tick embedded can increase the chance of infection.

To remove a tick, use narrow tweezers to grasp its head and pull it out, taking care to remove it. Don’t use a matchstick, petroleum jelly or other ineffective home remedies.

Lyme disease symptoms include severe headache, fever, joint pain, facial droop, muscle pain, and sometimes, muscle weakness.

As for mosquito-borne illnesses, experts said that they’re more rare. While most otherwise healthy people recover fine from many of these diseases, it’s not the case for all. The very young, the very old and those of any age who are immuno-compromised tend to experience more complications.

West Nile Virus has no vaccine or treatment; however, only one-fifth of those infected develop any illness and of those, only one percent develop serious issues. Most experience a fever and flu-like symptoms.

Kristina Ferrare, forestry program specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, said that many of the steps for preventing tick bites are the same for mosquito bites, including wearing long sleeves and pants, tucking in shirts and tucking pants into socks while outside.

“When outside, give ticks as little access to our skin as possible,” Ferrare said.

Apply approved repellant containing 25% DEET to keep mosquitoes away.

You can also purchase clothing treated with permethrin or treat your footwear and clothing with the tick-killing chemical. Ferrare said that permethrin lasts for six washings or, on shoes, about three months.

Wearing light colored clothing if you’re going in a tick habitat can help you spot them. Ferrare recommends checking for ticks and knocking them off before going indoors.

Extra precautions for ticks include staying on the center of hiking trails, to avoid brushing against foliage. Don’t sit directly on the ground or surfaces like stone walls. Shower after outdoor activities like hiking or gardening and wash the clothing worn as well. But Ferrare said to not rely only on showering, since ticks can “cement” themselves to skin once they bite. Family members can check each other for ticks in the hard-to-see areas. But keep in mind that ticks like dark, warm areas, like the armpits.

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