Spring has returned to Harford County and with that comes a reminder about the risk of Lyme disease, the most common vector borne disease in the United States.
With this in mind, the Harford County Health Department wants Harford County residents to be "tick aware," even in areas they may not consider themselves to be at risk. This means being more attentive from springtime through fall, when gardening, doing yard work or otherwise being near wooded and grassy areas.
Lyme disease, named after the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme in Connecticut, where a number of cases were first identified in 1975, is recognized as a disease that remains often misdiagnosed and widely under-reported by physicians. Prior to 2013, the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of diagnosed and probable cases around 45,000 annually, a large number when compared to other vector-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus. A landmark moment in the history of Lyme disease came in that year, however, when the CDC announced that the actual number of Lyme disease cases nationwide probably approaches some 300,000 annually.
"Ticks transmit not only Lyme disease, but also other serious diseases including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis and tularemia," warned Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly. "These ticks, often no larger than the size of a pinhead, are carried by mice, rabbits, squirrels, deer, birds and other forms of wildlife and domestic animals into the backyards and homes of the citizens of Harford County, as well as outlying areas where they work and recreate."
Lyme disease can affect multiple body systems and produce a wide range of symptoms. Not all patients with Lyme disease will have all symptoms, and many of the symptoms are not specific to Lyme disease, but can occur with other diseases as well.
The health department advises that the best defense against Lyme disease is prevention. David Reiher, vector control specialist, with the Health Department's Environmental Health Services Division, recommends taking all the following precautions:
¿ Wear lightly colored clothing on which ticks are more easily spotted.
¿ Treat clothing with Permethrin that is widely available at sporting goods stores and other retail outlets. When applied properly Permethrin is very effective against ticks and can last from five to 30 clothes washings.
¿ Use 20-30 percent DEET on exposed skin. Often used for mosquitoes, DEET is also known as "Off," "Repel" and "Cutter."
¿ Avoid tick habitat. Move swing sets and other recreation equipment away from woodland edges and areas of tall grass and weeds.
¿ Shower and thoroughly check your body (and scalp) after being in tick habitats.
¿ Do frequent tick checks; parents should check themselves and their children after outdoor activities. Use a magnifying glass and bright lighting. Nymphal stages of ticks are very small and can be easily missed.
¿ Remove attached ticks promptly and properly. A tick removed within 24 hours is much less likely to cause an infection. To remove a tick properly, use fine tipped tweezers, grasp it by the mouthparts and head, and pull outward with slow and steady pressure.
For more information, visit the health department website, http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com. Interested civic or community organizations are invited to call 410-877-2315 to schedule a Lyme disease awareness and prevention presentation, typically 30 to 45 minutes long. Additionally, visit the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/.