Summer is upon us, when Manhattanites flee the sweltering heat of the city for the beautiful beaches of Long Island and Fire Island, where woodland creatures, deer, raccoon, mice and opossums wander amidst densely wooded areas, spreading the threat of Lyme disease.
July is peak season for Lyme disease because it’s the time when ticks are most active. Last year, there were more than 5,800 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in New York State. The disease is a serious bacterial infection caused by the bite of the blacklegged deer tick, no larger than a poppy seed. If the bite is left untreated it can lead to memory loss, joint pain, paralysis and, in some cases, heart block. Pregnant women with Lyme disease can miscarry.
Ticks will attach themselves anywhere but tend to seek out the area where the blood supply is the greatest, such as the scalp, armpit or groin. A tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before Lyme disease can be transmitted. Once the tick has fed, the body becomes engorged and the tick falls off. Since the bite is painless, people are often unaware they have been bitten, so it is essential to always check for ticks, especially if you are camping or at the beach.
Lyme disease symptoms fall into three stages: early, middle and late. The early stage occurs three days to one month after being bitten. The person will experience flulike symptoms, including fever, chills, stiff neck, headache, muscle aches and joint pain. The classic bull’s-eye rash can be seen during this time, but not always.
The middle stage occurs one to four months after the bite, with painful and swollen joints as the most common symptom. People experience arthritis-type symptoms that migrate, though the knees are the most affected. An inability to concentrate and facial paralysis can also occur at this stage.
Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter, Ali Hilfiger, herself a designer, was bitten by a tick as a child in Bridgehampton. She spoke last year at a seminar in Sag Harbor about how she suffered for years with leg pains and difficulty concentrating; it wasn’t until she saw a psychiatrist that she made the startling discovery that she had second-stage Lyme disease. Hilfiger now speaks often for A Time for Lyme to bring awareness of how serious this disease is, especially if left untreated.
The late stage of Lyme disease can cause the heart to slow down, causing dizziness, shortness of breath and at times even the need for a pacemaker.
Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics when recognized and diagnosed early.
When you go outside this summer, here are some safety tips:
- Stay off dunes and away from high grassy areas and wooded areas where ticks breed.
- Wear light-colored clothes and long sleeves and slacks if you are in a wooded area so you can see the ticks.
- Keep you hair pulled back and wear a hat.
- Use insect repellent with 20-30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing—10 percent DEET for children—to prevent bites.
- Treat your clothes, especially pants, socks and shoes, with Permethrin, which kills ticks on contact. NEVER use this on your skin.
- Treat your pets with tick solution and check them carefully for ticks before they enter your house.
- Check yourself and children daily for ticks and shower daily to eliminate any loose ticks.
- If you find a tick, use fine tweezers, grasp the head and pull the tick upward, never crushing the body, which will introduce bacteria into your bloodstream. Clean the area with an antiseptic and see your doctor. Try to save the tick for identification.
Now go out and enjoy the beautiful beaches, but be careful.
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