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May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month in Harford

Diseases and IllnessesU.S. Centers for Disease Control and PreventionRecreational and Sporting Goods Industry

The Harford County Health Department and a local advocacy group are warning residents their spring and summer outdoor activities could put them at risk for Lyme disease, the most common vector borne disease in the United States.

A bacterial disease, the most common way of contracting Lyme is from tick bites, such as the blacklegged tick, notes the health department, which says the Centers for Disease Control believes there are upward of 300,000 cases of the disease annually.

During its meeting Tuesday night, the Harford County Council proclaimed May to be Lyme Disease Awareness Month in the county.

Council President Billy Boniface, who has Lyme disease, read the proclamation which was presented to representatives of Harford Lyme Advocates and County Health Officer Susan Kelly.

The Harford Lyme Advocates, a chapter of the National Capital Lyme Disease Association, will host a support group meeting in the council chambers, 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air, on Thursday, May 15, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The program will include a special showing of "Under Our Skin," which the group says is "the hidden story of Lyme disease, one of the most controversial and fastest growing epidemics of our time." There is no charge to attend and view the film.

For more information about the program, email HarfordLymeAdvocates@gmail.com.

The health department notes in a news release that as residents get involved in favorite outdoor activities, like camping, hiking, fishing, golfing and working in the yard, they run the risk of Lyme exposure.

Researchers and physicians label Lyme disease a peridomestic disease, meaning the disease is acquired around the home, the health department notes. In other words, a person doesn't have to travel very far to be infected by the bite of a blacklegged tick.

David Reiher, vector control specialist with the health department's Environmental Health Services Division, recommends all the following measures:

• Wear lightly colored clothing on which ticks can be more easily spotted;

• Treat clothing with Permethrin that is widely available at sporting goods stores and other retail outlets. When applied properly it is very effective against ticks and can last from five to 30 clothes washings;

• Use 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin. Often used for mosquitoes, DEET is sold under such brand names as "Off," "Repel" and "Cutter;"

• Avoid tick habitat. Move swing sets and other recreation areas away from woodland edges and areas of tall grass and weeds;

• Do frequent tick checks. Parents should check themselves and, especially, children after outdoor activities. Use a magnifying glass and bright lighting. Nymph stages of ticks are very small and are not easily seen; and

• Remove attached ticks promptly and properly. A tick removed within 24 hours is much less likely to cause an infection. To remove properly, use fine tipped tweezers, grasp the tick by the mouthparts and head and apply slow and steady pressure.

To disseminate the message of tick-borne disease prevention and awareness, the health department is partnering with the Harford County Public Library and Harford Lyme Advocates throughout May, when educational materials will be on display at all 11 branches of the Harford County Public Library.

For more information, visit the http://www.harfordcountyhealth.com. Interested civic or community organizations can call 410-877-2315 to schedule a Lyme disease awareness and prevention presentation, typically 30 to 45 minutes. Other information is available at http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/.

Lyme disease, named after the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme, Conn., where a number of cases were first identified in 1975, is recognized as a disease that was often misdiagnosed and widely under reported by physicians, according to the health department, which notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously recorded the number of diagnosed and probable cases at around 45,000 annually.

While this is a large number when compared to other vector borne diseases like West Nile virus, the health department release continues, a landmark moment in the history of Lyme disease came in August 2013 when the CDC announced that the real number of Lyme disease cases nationwide probably approaches about 300,000 annually.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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