By JIMMY LAWTON
Before you head out on a beautiful Saturday, St. Lawrence County’s interim public health director Lorraine Kourofsky wants campers, hikers and gardeners to take precautions against ticks when working outside.
Ticks can carry Lyme disease and have been on the rise in St. Lawrence County in the past decade and Kourofsky said this year is no exception. At least 31 people have been tested for Lyme disease in the county this year and 21 have tested positive, she said.
St. Lawrence County confirmed its first case of Lyme disease in 2002 and the number of infections did not hit double digits until 2007 when 10 cases were confirmed. In 2008, infections rose to 25 and have not dropped below 30 since.
That trend is likely to continue this year with at least 21 confirmed cases before the official start of summer.
According to St. Lawrence County Public Health, the risk of exposure to ticks is greatest along trails in the woods and on the edges of properties with tall vegetation, but animals and pets into lawns and gardens may also carry ticks. Kourofsky said many people believe ticks can jump, but she says that’s not the case. She said ticks are slow and must drop on to their victims from above or by brushing against them.
“We are asking people to be vigilant about checking for ticks. If you are out with family members it’s a good idea to stop every once in a while and check each other,” she said.
Kourofsky said another misconception is that the long cold winter will kill off the parasites, but that doesn’t seem to hold true. She said the long winter makes them hungry.
She said anyone spending a significant amount of time outdoors should consider repellents that contain deet, wear long sleeves and check often for ticks. She said some mosquito repellents are effective against ticks, but not all of them are.
“Make sure that the label includes ticks,” she said.
Early stages of Lyme disease are usually marked by one or more of the following symptoms: fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and/or a “bull’s eye” red rash appearing on the skin at the site of the bite.
Left untreated, Lyme disease can produce severe arthritis, or cause neurological or cardiac problems. However, with early detection and treatment with antibiotics, recovery from Lyme disease is usually complete.
“The earlier it’s treated the better,” Kourofsky said. “If not it can be very serious. People can end up with neurological and cardiac problems.”
Domestic animals, such as dogs and outdoor cats, may become infected with Lyme disease bacteria and some may develop arthritis.
Although there are many types of ticks, only deer ticks transfer Lyme disease. A tick must be attached for about 36 hours to transmit Lyme disease.
While there are many rumors about the best way to remove a tick, the only proper and safe method is to grasp the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull it out of the skin.
Contacting a physician is recommended after removing a tick.
The continual growth in Lyme disease is a concern for St. Lawrence County Public Health. Kourofsky said there is no ongoing effort to reduce tick populations, but her agency wants to inform people about ticks and Lyme Disease.
St. Lawrence County is not alone in Lyme disease outbreak. According to the public health department surrounding counties and much of the northeastern region of the country are reporting similar trends.
For more information about Lyme disease, call the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department at 386-2325 or visit www.co.st-lawrence.ny.us/Departments/PublicHealth/LymeDisease_WestNileVirus