Lyme Disease Awareness

May is Lyme Disease Awareness month — a time where activists, patients, doctors, and scientists work together to promote awareness of this disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are approximately 300,000 people diagnosed with Lyme disease each year.

Unfortunately, the northeast is the epicenter of this epidemic with over 90 percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases being reported from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The CDC lists our home as a “High Incidence State” with a three-year average of 16.2 cases per 100,000 people. The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies estimates that nearly one-third of the nation’s Lyme disease cases occur in our state.

Drs. Rick Ostfeld and Felicia Keesing, scientists with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, predict that 2017 will be a high risk year for Lyme disease in our region. Their research suggests that there has been an increase in the population of Lyme disease carrying mice in our forests which translates to an increase in infected ticks.

Additionally, the global threat of climate change has also increased the prevalence of Lyme disease, as warming temperatures increases the range and activity of Lyme-carrying ticks.

As the weather begins to warm and North Country families head outdoors, it is important for individuals to be informed of ways to prevent tick bites, and learn the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease so that it is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Preventing Tick Bites

Image via CDC

A few preventative techniques can go a long way to protecting yourself from contracting Lyme disease.

1) Avoid tick-infested areas — when hiking through the Adirondacks and other wooded areas, be sure to walk in the center of trails and avoid contact with overgrown brush, grass and leaves. Also consider wearing long pants and sleeves when hiking to minimize the exposure of your skin to ticks.

2) Use insect repellent — treating your skin and clothing with insect repellent will prevent ticks from latching onto you or your clothing.

3) Perform tick checks after being outdoors — after mowing your lawn or taking a hike, you should always check for ticks immediately after being outdoors. Check behind your ears, around your waist, under your arms and all other hard to reach areas that ticks may sneak into. Thoroughly wash and dry your clothing using hot water and high heat to kill any ticks that might be clinging onto your clothes.

If you see a tick on your body, be sure to remove it immediately. Use tweezers to pull the tick’s body away from your skin being careful not to crush the tick’s body.

Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease

If you have been bitten by a tick, be on the lookout for some of these signs and symptoms. If you develop any of these, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.

One of the most common symptoms of Lyme disease is the characteristic “bull’s-eye” rash called, “erythema migrans.” This rash can appear 3–14 days after an infected tick bite and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Other symptoms of Lyme disease infections include:

  • fatigue
  • chills and fever
  • headache
  • muscle and joint pain
  • swollen lymph nodes

As soon as you notice any of the signs and symptoms associated with Lyme disease, contact your doctor as soon as possible. After diagnosing you with Lyme disease, your doctor may prescribe you with antibiotics or other drugs to help you recover. If left untreated, you may develop arthritis, joint or muscle pain, headaches and stiffness, dizziness or possibly even short term memory loss.

As the prevalence of Lyme disease increases across our region, it is important that our nation’s medical professionals understand the implications of Lyme disease and how to best treat patients afflicted with it.

In Congress, I have worked with my colleagues to pass the 21st Century Cures Act. This groundbreaking medical research legislation included language I coauthored to help individuals with Lyme disease. This law establishes an Interagency Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Working Group within the Department of Health and Human Services. This working group will help guide Lyme disease treatment and research and it will bring together medical professionals, researchers, and Lyme disease patients to work on medical breakthroughs.

I also hosted a Lyme disease community forum at SUNY Adirondack where we heard from families, activists, government officials and doctors. This was a tremendous opportunity for the community to learn more from experts about the dangers Lyme disease poses and how to best combat and control the spread of Lyme.

I will continue to work in Congress to support Lyme disease research and education through funding for the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. The more we know about Lyme, the more we can do to treat patients and educate families to stop the spread of this debilitating disease.

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