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  • Lyme Disease: Prevention is the Best Medicine

  • Gail Jackson, RN, BSN, CIC, Newport Hospital’s infection prevention coordinator

    Gail Jackson, RN, infection prevention coordinator at Newport Hospital, talks about the best ways to prevent Lyme disease.

    I am sure that all of us know someone who has had Lyme disease. So often, people are unaware that they have been bitten by a tick and so they ignore the signs and symptoms that could help with early detection and treatment.

    Living in the Northeast has its pros and cons - great sports teams, beautiful foliage, but also the risk for infection with tick-borne diseases. Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne disease and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 95 percent of all Lyme disease cases reported in 2012 were from just 13 states, most of those concentrated in the Northeast. In Rhode Island, 217 cases were reported in 2012.

    Lyme disease is spread through the bite of an infected tick. Typical symptoms of early infection include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans (a bulls-eye rash). This rash begins at the site of a tick bite and occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected people. Symptoms of Lyme disease can occur 3 to 30 days after a tick bite. If you experience these symptoms, call your health care provider. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system; however, most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.

    The diagnosis of Lyme disease should take into account the following factors:

    • History of possible exposure to ticks in areas where Lyme disease is known to occur
    • Signs and symptoms of the illness
    • The results of blood tests used to detect whether the patient has antibodies to Lyme disease bacteria. (It can take two to four weeks after infection for the body to produce measurable levels of antibodies.)

    Tick Tips

    It’s the nymph, an immature tick less than 2 mm in size, which is most often responsible for bites in humans. Ticks also secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so the person doesn’t feel the tick bite. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed. Ticks need to be attached to a person’s skin for 36 to 48 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease, so daily skin checks are needed to find and remove a tick before it has a chance to spread disease.

    If you do find a tick, remove it immediately with tweezers. Avoid crushing the tick’s body. Do not use petroleum jelly, nail polish or other products. Grasp the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Do not be alarmed if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.

    The best way to prevent the spread of tick-borne diseases is to keep a tick bite from happening. Here are some general prevention tips when spending time outside in the woods or near tall grasses:


    photo courtesy of Greg Bass

    • Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass and leaf litter.
    • Tuck pants into socks to create a barrier and wear light-colored clothing to help spot ticks.
    • Use repellents. Spray repellent containing a 20 percent concentration of DEET on clothes and exposed skin. You can also treat clothes, tents, etc., with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact. (Do not use directly on skin.)
    • Check skin and clothes for ticks every day and bathe or shower as soon as possible after going indoors.
    • Examine gear and pets.
    • Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for one hour to kill remaining ticks.

    The backyard is a common place to find ticks, but it’s easy to create a tick-free zone by using landscaping.

    • Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
    • Place a three-foot barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas, and around patios and play equipment to restrict tick migration. (Ticks cannot fly or jump, but can crawl onto people and animals)
    • Mow the lawn frequently and keep leaves raked.
    • Stack wood neatly and in a dry area.
    • Keep playground equipment, decks and patios away from yard edges and trees. Place them in a sunny location.
    • Remove any old furniture and trash from the yard that may give ticks a place to hide.
    • Consider protecting your pet, and possibly yourself, through the use of tick control products for animals.

    Be vigilant when it comes to the threat of tick-borne diseases. With the proper precautions and prevention techniques, you can protect yourself, your pets and your family from tick bites.

    Originally published in the Newport Daily News