There aren’t many arachnids/insects that can compete with the deer tick for most feared or reviled in Westchester County (the cockroach may be a close second though). For years, county health departments in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have issued warnings to the public urging caution in wooded areas where ticks—some no bigger than the head of a pin—can congregate and attach themselves to a human host.
But it’s not without good reason.
According to the state Department of Health, the rates of Lyme Disease—the most common disease spread by ticks to humans—in the Hudson Valley are some of the highest in the state. For example, Ulster County had 1,721 reported cases of Lyme Disease between 2007-09, a rate of nearly 316 among a population in 2008 of 181,670. In Westchester, the rate was nearly 72, with 2,045 total cases reported within a 2008 population of 953,943. See the full list on the NYDOH Web site here and here.
Lyme Disease is the most common of the tickborne diseases, with early stage symptoms—appearing approximately three to 30 days after the tick bite—that include an unmistakable bulls-eye rash, fever, chills and fatigue. If left untreated, the disease can cause increasingly severe symptoms such as a loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face (Bell’s palsy); joint pain; severe headaches; arthritis or “chronic Lyme Disease,” which is a resistance to treatment that occurs when diagnosis is delayed. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these persistent symptoms may be a result of immune system damage sustained during the body’s time spent fighting the infection.
Other, less common tickborne diseases include ehrlichiosis—a bacterial infection whose symptoms include fever, headache, nausea and low white blood cell count among others—and babesiosis, which causes symptoms similar to malaria such as fever, chills, muscle aches and difficulty breathing. Both disorders can be treated with antibiotics.
If you do discover a tick on your body, however, don’t panic, advises the Westchester County Department of Health.
Not all ticks are infected with diseases and, even if they are, your chances of getting sick are significantly lessened if you remove the tick within 24 hours of its attachment.
The WCDOH recommends the following tick removal procedure:
- Use fine-point tweezers. Many tick removal devices are available but none are better than a plain pair of fine-point tweezers. Grasp the tick at the place of attachment (by the head or mouthparts), as close to the skin as possible. Do not grasp the tick by the body.
- Pull the tick firmly and steadily outward. DO NOT twist the tick. This may cause mouthparts to break off and stay in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with tweezers. Consult your healthcare provider if infection occurs.
- Place the tick in a small vial or container with rubbing alcohol or vegetable oil to kill it.
- Clean the bite wound with disinfectant.
- DO NOT put Vaseline petroleum jelly, a hot match, alcohol or any other irritant on the tick before removing it. This can increase the chances of an infected tick transmitting bacteria to you.
- Monitor the site of the bite for the next 30 days for the appearance of a rash. Learn about the other early symptoms of Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis. Report any of these signs to your healthcare provider.
The WCDOH also recommends the following tick safety tips:
- Avoid tick-infested areas (wooded or grassy areas), especially in May, June and July.
- Wear light-colored, tightly woven clothes to spot ticks more easily. Tuck your pants into socks and shirt into pants.
- Use insect repellents containing DEET according to label instructions.
- Do tick checks after outdoor activities such as gardening, hiking or picnicking, but at least once a day. Inspect the entire body (parents should check their children) and remove ticks promptly.
Please call the Tickborne Disease hotline for updated information: 914-813-LYME. To have a captured tick tested for Lyme Disease and/or identified to species, please visit the WCDOH Web site here for a list of tick testing labs (scroll to bottom of page).