On May 3, 2017

Prevent disease by being “tick smart”

By Susan Durant

Vermont had the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the U.S. in 2013 and, 2015, and the incidence for 2016 should be similar, said Bradley Tompkins, a vector borne epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health (VDH). The VDH website lists over 380 confirmed cases of Lyme disease since 2011, which is up from 60 or fewer prior to 2006. Tompkins went on to say Anaplasmosis, the second most common tick-borne disease in Vermont, has steadily increased each year since 2008, and it reached a new high in 2016.

Bennington County had the highest reported cases of tick borne diseases, followed by Rutland, Windham and Windsor counties, said Tompkins. He went on to say, the Northeast Kingdom had the lowest number of reported cases.

Tompkins said the reason for the dramatic increase in the number of ticks (and their related diseases) was largely due to three factors. First, much of Vermont has been reforested after being mostly farmlands. The new forests are mostly fragmented, which makes a good habitat for animals that carry ticks to flourish, like mice, shrews and deer. The fragmented forests are not good habitats for the natural predators that control these populations. Second, warmer weather related to climate change increases the length of time ticks are active each year. Third, surveillance bias: people are more aware of tick borne diseases, and they are getting reported more often.

The best way to prevent Lyme and other tick borne diseases is to be “tick smart,”  said Tompkins. He explained: try to avoid areas where ticks thrive, when hiking stay on the trail, remove or limit mouse infestations, leaf litter and long grass around your home.

A tick will climb up a blade of grass, low plant or other structure and wait with its front legs outstretched. It attaches to a person or animal that passes by and brushes against the legs, said Tompkins. When outdoors keep ticks off by wearing long sleeve shirts and pants. Wear effective repellent like DEET on bare skin. Treat clothing with permethrin; it kills ticks on contact and lasts through several washings. Check for ticks and remove any attached to your skin or clothes.

Light colored clothes make ticks more visible when checking. If bitten by a tick, remove it and clean the area as soon as possible. Contact your health care provider if symptoms of a tick-borne disease occurs. Early symptoms are usually seen in three to 30 days, and they may include fatigue, rash, fever, headache, muscle and joint pain.

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