Ticked Off — Your Guide to Tick Removal and Lyme Disease Prevention

tick on a blade of grass

Living in Connecticut, we all cherish our state’s natural beauty. But with those scenic woodlands and brushy fields comes a potential health threat: ticks. These tiny arachnids can transmit Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne illness in the United States. Did you know that in Connecticut alone, an estimated 30,000 people contract Lyme disease each year? That’s a significant number, highlighting the importance of awareness and preventive measures.

The danger lies not just in the prevalence of ticks but also in the possibility of them carrying Lyme disease. While not all ticks are infected, about 30% of ticks in Connecticut can transmit the bacteria. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause a range of health problems, from fatigue and joint pain to neurological issues and heart complications.

Minimizing Your Risk

So, how can you minimize your risk of encountering ticks and Lyme disease? Here are some key strategies:

  • Dress for Defense: Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when spending time outdoors. Tuck your pants into your socks for added protection.
  • Repel the Threat: Use insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on your clothing and exposed skin. Follow product instructions carefully.
  • Mind Your Surroundings: Stick to cleared trails and avoid tall grass and brushy areas where ticks are more likely to be present.

What to Do if You Find a Tick

Now, imagine you find a tick attached to your skin. Don’t panic! Here’s what to do:

  1. Remove Carefully: Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick near its head and gently pull it straight out. Avoid squeezing the body, as this can increase the risk of infection.
  2. Clean and Monitor: Disinfect the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Keep an eye on the bite for the next few weeks, looking for the telltale “bullseye” rash, a circular red mark that expands over time.
  3. Seek Medical Attention: If you experience any symptoms of Lyme disease, such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches, or the bullseye rash, consult your doctor immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a full recovery.

If you find a tick and safely remove it, the tick can be brought to Uncas Health District for free testing. This helps public health officials track tick populations and Lyme disease prevalence in the area.

Remember, in Connecticut and across the U.S., Lyme disease is a significant public health concern. By following these preventive measures and taking prompt action in case of a tick bite, we can all play a role in protecting ourselves and our community. So stay vigilant, enjoy the outdoors responsibly, and let’s all have a safe and healthy summer.

DPH confirms 4 cases of tick-transmitted Powassan virus in CT this year

tick on a blade of grass

The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) this week announced that four Connecticut residents have tested positive for Powassan virus (POWV) infection. These four cases of POWV associated illness are the first to be identified in Connecticut in 2023.  During 2016–2022, 19 cases of POWV associated illness were reported in Connecticut, including six in 2022; two of the infections were fatal last year.

Two male patients aged 60 years and older, residents of Middlesex County and Litchfield County, became ill during early July. Two female patients aged 50 years and older, residents of Windham and Litchfield County, became ill during late July. Laboratory tests performed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Laboratory in Ft. Collins, CO, confirmed the presence of antibodies to POWV for all patients. All patients reported a known tick bite and were hospitalized with a central nervous system disease. They have been discharged and are recovering.

“The identification of four Connecticut residents with Powassan virus-associated illness emphasizes the importance of taking actions to protect yourself from tick bites from now through the late fall,”; said DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD. “Using insect repellent, avoiding areas where ticks are likely, and checking carefully for ticks after being outside can reduce the chance of you or your children being infected with this virus.”

According to Goudarz Molaei, PhD, MSc, a chief scientist who also directs the Connecticut Tick and Tick-borne Pathogen Surveillance Program at the Agricultural Experiment Station, “In recent years we have been receiving a higher than usual number of ticks, and this year so far, the laboratory has received 4,616 tick submissions, including 3,089 blacklegged ticks, from state residents directly or through health departments and physicians’ offices, in comparison to 1,889 blacklegged ticks in 2022.”

“The persistent and expanding threat posed by blacklegged ticks, coupled with ongoing range expansion and establishment in new areas of invasive ticks, the Asian long horned tick, the Gulf Coast tick, and the lone star tick, and the confirmation of four Powassan virus disease cases in Connecticut residents, highlights the increasing public health challenges associated with ticks and tick-borne diseases.” said Dr. Molaei.

Powassan virus is spread to people through the bite of an infected blacklegged, or deer tick. It takes from one week to one month after the bite of an infected tick to develop symptoms of POWV disease, and the virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes after the tick first attaches. Powassan virus associated illness has been reported from early spring until late fall.

While most people infected with POWV likely experience no symptoms or a mild flu-like illness, some people will develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system. About one out of 10 cases of severe illness are fatal and approximately half of survivors experience long-term health problems. Severe cases may begin with fever, vomiting, headache, or weakness and rapidly progress to confusion, loss of coordination, difficulty speaking, or seizures. There is no vaccine nor a specific treatment for POWV associated illness. Severe illness is treated by supportive therapy which may include hospitalization, respiratory support, and hydration.

Tips for preventing tick bites

  • Avoid areas where ticks are likely to be, such as in in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas. Ticks are active from
    spring to fall and may also be active on warmer days during winter.
  • Consider the use of CDC-recommended mosquito/tick repellents, containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon
    eucalyptus, IR3535, or 2-undecanone, and apply according to directions, when outdoors. However, repellents
    containing >30% DEET have been reported to be the most effective.
  • Check yourself, your children, and your pet animals for ticks immediately after coming indoors. Showering
    within two hours of coming indoors may be effective in reducing the risk of tick-borne disease.
  • Examine clothing and gear carefully after coming indoors. Tumble dry clothing in a dryer on high heat for at
    least 10 minutes to kill ticks that were carried inside.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your dog.
  • Consider treating items such as boots, clothing, and hiking or camping gear with products containing 0.5
    percent permethrin.

For information on Powassan virus and how to prevent tick bites, visit https://www.cdc.gov/powassan/index.html

Find more tips on tick removal and testing here.

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