he US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year and this situation is a tremendous public health problem.
Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, spread through the bites of certain types of ticks. Outdoor workers who walk through wooded or grassy areas may pick up ticks that have become infected with the bacterium after feeding on rodents, birds and other small animals. When a tick feeds on a human, the bacterium can be transferred to the human host, causing serious illness.
Lyme disease symptoms include an expanding rash at the site of the tick bite. The infected person may experience itchiness, scaling, pain, swelling or oozing fluid or pus, fatigue, fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain and swollen lymph nodes.
If the person is not given antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease, he or she may experience central nervous system disorders such as brain swelling or facial nerve paralysis; multiple skin rashes, arthritis-like symptoms, heart palpitations and extreme fatigue and general weakness. Death is not a usual outcome, but it is possible.
Ticks are found in many areas of the US and Canada, and anyone engaging in recreational or work activities is at risk for tick exposure. Outdoor workers should wear shoes with closed toes, long-sleeved shirts and pants. Pulling socks up over pant legs helps keep ticks from crawling up a person’s legs.
It is also suggested that outdoor workers use insect repellants containing DEET, applying them to clothing and exposed skin.
Workers should shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors and should also do a daily full-body check for ticks. If a tick is found and removed within 24 to 48 hours, the risk for infection is low. Attached ticks should be removed with tweezers, grasping the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible and pulling slowly until it is removed.
Twisting or rotating the tick or trying to squash it can result in parts of the tick remaining in the skin and causing infection. The affected area should be washed with soap and water or disinfected with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
“We know people can prevent tick bites through steps such as using repellants and tick checks. Although these measures are effective, they aren’t fail-proof and people don’t always use them, says Lyle R. Peterson, a medical doctor and director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. “We need to move to a broader approach to tick reduction, involving entire communities, to combat this public health problem.”
The community approach would involve homeowners killing ticks in their own yards and communities addressing rodents that carry the Lyme disease bacterium, deer that play a key role in the ticks’ life cycle, suburban planning and the interaction between humans, deer, rodents and ticks.