Beware of ticks; it’s Lyme time

While everyone is susceptible to tick bites, campers, hikers, and people who work in gardening and in other leafy outdoor venues are at the greatest risk of being bitten. Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bite of an infected female deer tick.

Lyme disease was first recognized in Lyme, Conn., in 1975. It is transmitted by a group of closely related species of ticks known as Ixodes. Ticks in this group—deer ticks, western black-legged ticks, and blacklegged ticks — are much smaller than the common dog or cattle ticks, and attach to any part of the body, often areas such as the groin, armpits and scalp.

Leslie Terjesen, Ocean County Health Department public information officer, said the majority of cases of Lyme disease in Ocean County have been found in Toms River, followed by Jackson, then Manchester, although Lyme disease is reported from all areas of Ocean County.

In addition, the last statistics available from 2008 show that the majority of people reported to have confirmed cases or probable cases of Lyme disease were between the ages of 50-59. That changed from 2007, where the highest number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease were between the ages of 30 and 39. Although these statistics show the majority in these age groups, all age groups were affected by Lyme disease.

Lyme disease can cause fever, headaches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and a characteristic skin rash, sometimes called a bullseye rash. A bulls-eye rash is an early stage symptom and usually appears at the site of the tick bite within three to 30 days, according to the Ocean County Health Department.

Not everyone gets this rash, but even if one does, it may go unnoticed. Left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. Permanent damage to the joints or the nervous system can develop in patients with late Lyme disease. It is rarely, if ever, fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control, patients treated with antibiotics in the early stages of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely.

In cases where an individual finds a tick on his or another person’s body, Terjesen said proper tick removal is essential. Using tweezers, grasp the tick close to the skin, pull straight back and avoid crushing the tick’s body. Do not twist the tick in removing it; parts of the tick might remain in the skin. Save the tick for possible identification by a doctor.

Household pets can get Lyme disease, too. Typical symptoms in animals include joint soreness and lameness, fever and loss of appetite. Regularly checking pets for all types of ticks reduces the risk of infection for both pet and owner, according to the health department. Preventing tick exposure with topical and/or collar products is very important in preventing Lyme disease in dogs.