With confirmed cases of Lyme disease at an all-time high, local officials are desperately trying to raise awareness of the problem, provide important prevention tips and dispel misinformation.
On June 5, a presentation on ticks and Lyme disease will be held at the Bainbridge Town Hall from 6 to 7 p.m., according to an event flier.
The presentation will highlight tick and Lyme disease identification, prevention and response. There has been a rise in the numbers of ticks in the Afton and Bainbridge area, the flier said.
But the increase in ticks, and associated Lyme disease cases, is a statewide problem, especially this time of year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
From 2007 until 2011, confirmed cases of Lyme disease increased by 125 percent in Delaware County, 473 percent in Schoharie County, 660 percent in Chenango County and 663 percent in Otsego County.
The prevalence of Lyme disease in Otsego County has increased from one case in 2001 to 35 cases in 2012, according to a recent Otsego County Community Health Assessment.
Joann Carey, a physician’s assistant at Bassett Medical Center’s Oneonta Convenience Care location on River Street, said this has been the worst year she has seen for ticks and Lyme disease.
“It’s a ridiculous year as far as ticks go,” Carey said. “It’s really scary. They’re everywhere. And it started earlier than normal, too. We have seen an abundance of people coming in with tick bites or saying they removed a tick from their body. It’s not unusual to see four or more people a day for it.”
Carey said the onslaught of ticks has been so extreme that she is planning on organizing a public forum to educate the public and dispel some of the misinformation that exists surrounding the topic.
For instance, recent literature suggests that individuals only need to be concerned about contracting Lyme disease if a tick has been attached to his or her body for more than 36 hours, Carey said. If it has been attached for less than 36 hours, you shouldn’t be overly worried.
Another misconception is that a bull’s-eye shaped rash at the site of a tick bite is the best predictor of Lyme disease. This is not necessary true, Carey said. Individuals should look for any fast-expanding, red rash or raisin-like blister.
The notion that a hot shower will kill ticks is also untrue, Carey said. But it does take two hours for a tick to become embedded in the skin, so taking a hot shower could feasibly wash one away and is not a bad idea.
If you experience a rash or see a tick that is fully engorged on your body, go see a doctor, Carey said. Patients above the age of 8 can be treated with an anti-biotic, such as Doxycyline. However, these anti-biotics are only effective in treating the disease 70 percent of the time, so it’s important to keep an eye out for strange symptoms, Carey said.
There are several stages to watch out for in the development of Lyme disease, Carey said. The first stage is characterized by the large, red rash and can also include flu-like symptoms. The second stage can be identified by neurological problems, cardiac problems, or the development of meningitis or intermittent arthritis.
Carey said it’s important to be cautious because untreated Lyme disease can “absolutely” result in death. The Boston Globe reported in 2013 that three young, healthy individuals from the Northeast between the ages of 26 and 38 abruptly died from heart inflammation caused by previously undetected cases of Lyme disease.
Bob Tuthill, of Oneonta, said he organized the Oneonta Lyme Support Group after being bitten by a tick in 2008 and developing Lyme disease. For him, the disease eventually manifested itself as Bell’s Palsy, a disorder of the nerves that control movement of the facial muscles, he said. Although his Lyme disease is no longer active, Tuthill still experiences residual symptoms six years later, including not being able to feel the floor underneath his feet.
Since his diagnosis, Tuthill said, he has made an effort to learn everything he can about the disease. He ran the Oneonta Lyme Support Group for two years, but the group has not met since last year because of a decrease in participation. But that’s not to say there are any less victims, Tuthill said.
In fact, that’s far from the truth. Tuthill said he still gets many calls from people looking for information and advice. He also occasionally goes out into the community to meet with victims of Lyme disease, which is “vastly” under reported, he said.
Lyme disease is complicated, Tuthill said, because its symptoms often mimic other diseases. It’s often misdiagnosed as muscular dystrophy, the flu, lethargy or simple muscle strain.
Carey agreed that Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. This is because preliminary blood tests often result in false-negatives or false-positives, she said. Other conditions, like Mononucleosis, can create misleading results. On top of this, Carey said, Lyme disease will not show up in blood work until two months have passed.
Once you have had Lyme disease, you will always test positive for it, even though it may be cured, Carey added. This can be misleading for doctors as well. An individual can get Lyme disease more than once in his or her lifetime, she said.
There is not currently a vaccine for Lyme disease, Carey said, but health officials are trying to come up with one. The best way to protect yourself from tick bites and Lyme disease is to cover up and check yourself almost obsessively, Carey said.
“Check yourself — behind the knees, in folds and in any dark places — check your pets, check your clothes and your bed,” Carey said. “Ticks can come in on a pet that sleeps with you, become engorged and fall off somewhere inside your house,”
In order to raise awareness, the New York State Department of Health is offering free warning signs that can be posted in parks and other outdoor recreation areas, where residents and visitors may be at higher risk for tick bites. Carey said she hopes to put together a public forum sooner rather than later.
“I just really want to get the word out,” Carey said, “and the correct information out there.”
Confirmed cases of Lyme disease by county, and percent increase over previous four-year period, from 2007-11 (Source: Centers for Disease Control) Schoharie County: 86 (473%) Otsego County: 61 (663%) Chenango County: 38 (660%) Delaware County: 27 (125%)