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Prevent Lyme disease this summer

By Tad Helmstetler

Rowan County environmental health supervisor

With warmer temperatures, people are heading to the great outdoors for camping, hiking and cookouts. While having fun in the sun, it is important to be aware of the possibility of tick bites.

Central North Carolina has long been a hotbed for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but Lyme disease has increased in prevalence and may pose a bigger risk to human health.

Lyme disease was first diagnosed as a separate ailment in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Before hat, it was thought to be a form of juvenile arthritis. In 1981, a scientist named Willy Burgdorfer was studying Rocky Mountain spotted fever and began to also study Lyme disease. He discovered that Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and that it is transmitted by black-legged deer ticks. In 1982, the bacterium was named after Burdorfer and is called Borrelia burgdorferi.

The symptoms of Lyme disease include swollen knees, skin rashes, paralysis, headaches and severe chronic fatigue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. every year.

Standard treatment for early-stage Lyme disease is a short course of antibiotics. Later-stage Lyme disease can be harder to treat and may require longer-term antibiotic treatment.

The black-legged tick is common in all parts of N.C. and the southeastern U.S. in general. Its life cycle is two years, going from egg to several nymph stages to adult. A blood meal is required between each stage of development to allow the tick to continue to mature.

The ticks feed primarily on deer, although the nymph stages also may feed on rodents. The Lyme disease bacterium can pass between individual stages but is not passed to the egg by the mother.

To avoid tick bites, avoid areas that are brushy or have leaf litter. Using a repellant that contains at least 20 percent DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on areas of exposed skin should provide several hours of protection.

The pesticide Permethrin can be applied to clothing, boots and gear. It will kill ticks upon exposure and will survive multiple washings. When you return home, put your clothing in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on your clothing. If the clothing requires washing, use hot water.

It is important to carefully examine your body for ticks when you return home. Showering can help remove ticks that have not yet attached to your body. Carefully examine the head, armpits, behind the knees and between the legs for ticks that may have attached. In most cases, ticks must be attached for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, so removing them quickly reduces the chances of contracting Lyme disease.

Cases of Lyme disease are increasing every year. By following these recommendations, Lyme disease can be prevented, and outdoor fun can be safe for all.

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