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June 23, 2004

Tiny Deer Ticks May Carry Lyme Disease

The sun is warm, flowers are in bloom, and the summer weather invites us to spend as much time as we can outside. While we enjoy the summer weather, it is important to be aware that people and their pets can be exposed to Lyme disease anywhere in New York State.

"Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected deer tick," said Kathleen Smith, Commissioner of the Oswego County Health Deparmtent. Deer ticks live on the ground in shady, moist areas. They will cling to tall grass, brush and shrubs, usually no more than 24 inches off the ground. They also live in lawns and gardens, at the edges of woods, and around old stone walls.

"In areas where ticks are commonly found, any contact with vegetation, even playing in the yard, can result in exposure to ticks," said Smith.

Lyme disease can have serious complications if it is not identified and treated early. The most noticeable early sign of Lyme disease is a rash resembling a solid patch or bulls eye.

The rash develops between three and 30 days after the tick bite. The rash often expands over time and can last for several weeks. In some cases, no rash appears, while in other cases, there are multiple rashes. The rash does not normally itch or feel painful.

Other early symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches and joint paint. If you notice these signs or symptoms, consult a health care provider immediately.

Insect repellents can greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease. Follow label directions carefully and do not allow children to apply insect repellents themselves.

"One of the most effective ways to avoid Lyme disease is to check your body for ticks after you have spent time outside. Pay particular attention to the back of knees, behind ears, the scalp area, armpits and your back," Smith said.

It is important that a tick be removed as soon as it is discovered. If the tick is removed within 36 hours, the risk of Lyme disease is greatly reduced.

If you find a tick attached to your body, remove it by taking the following steps:

  • Using tweezers, grasp the tick near the mouthparts, as close to the skin as possible.
  • Be careful not to squeeze, crush or puncture the body of the tick, which may contain infectious fluids.
  • Pull the tick in a steady, upward motion away from the skin.
  • Do not attempt to remove ticks by using petroleum jelly, kerosene, lit cigarettes or other home remedies. They may increase the chance of contracting a tick-borne disease.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite site with soap, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Wash your hands carefully.

People who find on themselves or their pet can find out if it is a deer tick by bringing it to the environmental division of the county health department at 70 Bunner St., Oswego. The health department staff can arrange to have the tick identified. The health department does not test ticks to see if they carry Lyme disease.

"If you have any concerns about being exposed to Lyme disease, contact your physician or health care provider," said Smith. "Record the date and location of the tick bite. If a rash appears or you experience flu-like symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately."

To learn more about Lyme disease, call the Oswego County Health Department at 349-3564 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3564, or visit State Health Department's web site at www.health.state.ny.us

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