Awareness and Prevention are the Best Medicine to Fight Lyme Disease
Suffolk County, one of the country’s highest risk areas for tick-borne disease
STONY BROOK, NY, June 27, 2014 - With the arrival of the warmer summer weather comes tick season, and with that, the threat of Lyme disease. Suffolk County is one of the country’s highest risk areas, so Long Island parents should be aware of the risks of tick-borne disease in children. Saul Hymes, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Director of the Pediatric Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Children’s, offers some tips and advice on how to stay healthy this summer.
"Overall, Lyme disease is a growing problem for Suffolk County, with as many as 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year," said Dr. Hymes. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are approximately 300,000 cases annually across the country, although only 10 percent get reported. "This means that awareness is low, and that many people may not be receiving prompt or appropriate treatment. When Lyme disease goes undiagnosed, especially in children, there can be serious complications. However, know that treatment is extremely effective, especially if started early."
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by the bite of the Ixodes scapularis tick. "Symptoms that may alert you to possible Lyme disease infection include rash, headache, and flu-like symptoms in the early stages followed by joint pain or neurological problems," said Dr. Hymes. More severe cases can progress to a Bell¹s Palsy (facial paralysis) or meningitis. Other common illnesses carried by ticks local to Long Island include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis, and STARI.
Dr. Hymes says prevention is the best medicine. "First, families should try to avoid direct contact with ticks, which is not always easy, but try staying away from wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter," said Dr. Hymes. "When hiking with kids on these great summer days, walk in the center of the trails. Wearing long sleeves and long pants is best. After your nature walk or hike, do a 'tick check’: parents should look for ticks hiding under their children's arms, in and around their ears, inside their belly button, behind their knees, between their legs, around their waist, and especially in their hair. And don’t forget, ticks are very hard to see so search carefully!"
Other tips from Dr. Hymes include: Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to more easily find and wash off ticks that are crawling on you. Examine gear and pets; ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and backpacks. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for ten minutes before washing them, to kill remaining ticks.
"Using bug and tick repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing will provide extra protection and can last for several hours," says Dr. Hymes. He reminds, parents should always follow product instructions and should apply this product to their children themselves, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth. Dr. Hymes adds, “Newer data also suggests 0.5% Permethrin may be even more effective than DEET. It should not be placed on skin but instead applied to clothing, where it can remain effective for weeks."
And if your child has a tick bite or you suspect they might have Lyme disease, Dr. Hymes says seek medical treatment from an expert. "At Stony Brook, Lyme disease, quite simply, is one of our areas of expertise," said Dr. Hymes. "In fact, our Lyme laboratory has such high-quality testing that doctors and hospitals from around the country send their samples to us."
When the symptoms of Lyme disease began emerging in the population, the test to confirm Lyme disease was invented by a Stony Brook microbiologist. Since Suffolk County has been an epicenter for the disease from the beginning, Stony Brook has dedicated resources to understanding the disease process, investigating causes and treatments, and developing evidence-based best practices.