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Tick Borne Diseases, What You Need to Know


March 16, 2000
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Tick Borne Diseases, What You Need to Know

You may have heard about ticks carrying disease on television, radio, a newspaper or magazine article. Typically, the news spot is run in the spring because that's when most of the public begins spending more time outdoors. With the complicated lives that most people lead it is easy to just pass this information off as another bit of news that will affect someone else. Law enforcement professionals typically perceive that the greatest personal dangers that they face will come as a bullet, edged weapon, or vehicle accident. Rarely, do they consider the possibility that their lives will be endangered, or their careers will be ended by something as insignificant as an insect. As law enforcement officers, you are in the outdoors just about every working day. You do not get to pick and choose when and where you go. Like most of the hazards that you may face, knowledge, preparation, and prevention are the best defenses.You should know that ticks transmit several diseases by their bite. The common dog tick may carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This illness usually appears within 3 to 12 days after the tick bite. Signs and symptoms are fever, headache, rash, and nausea or vomiting. Medical attention needs to be sought immediately, and if not treated promptly, death may result. Another potentially fatal disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick and the deer tick. This illness, human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE), causes flu-like symptoms including high fever, headache, chills, extreme fatigue, muscle and joint pain, respiratory difficulty, nausea and vomiting. The symptoms usually occur suddenly and put the victim in a life-threatening situation within a few hours of the first onset of problems. Babesiosis, a malaria-like disease, that causes nausea, vomiting, headache, shaking chills, fatigue, drenching sweats, and muscle pain can, be transmitted by any tick that carries Lyme disease. Preliminary studies indicate that you can be infected with more than one of these diseases from a single tick bite. Of all the illnesses mentioned, Lyme disease may be the most commonly occurring. This disease was first described in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1977, after the illness was found present in a cluster of children that were first thought to have juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The disease was not new in Europe, where it had been observed as an unusual medical condition in the early 1900s. Lyme disease, like the other tick borne illnesses, can be found just about anywhere that birds and mammals live. Typically, as physicians become aware of the over 200 illnesses that Lyme disease may mimic, the number of cases reported may increase.Lyme disease, like the other diseases previously mentioned, is transmitted by the painless bite of the deer tick. This is a small tick that in its young stage is about the size of a period on a printed page. The deer tick, of course, is found on deer, but may be found on any mammal or bird. In fact, the most common carrier is the everyday field mouse. The deer tick may be found anywhere outdoors, wooded areas, the seashore (on beach grass), the yard of your home, and on your pets. This little tick is nothing more than a hungry hitchhiker waiting for a ride and a meal.The major problem for us is when people become the host for this little parasite. It will attach itself to any part of your body to get a free meal. Once the tick embeds itself it begins to feed on your blood. To keep the blood from clotting, and to prevent you from feeling its bite, it injects the bite site with its own anticoagulant and anesthetic. If the tick is infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), some bacteria will be injected into you during this process.Because the bite is painless and because the tick is so small, you may never even realize that you have been bitten. If you discover a tick embedded in your skin the best method to remove it is with fine tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, and to gently pull it out. Any other method (squeezing, burning, coating, etc.) increases the risk that the tick will release infectious bacteria into your body. Disinfect the bite site, your hands and the tweezers. Report the bite to your physician. If the incident happens at work, you should document it. Your doctor may want the tick analyzed at a lab for the bacteria. If so, place it in a clean airtight jar. If not, wrap the tick in a few sheets of toilet paper and flush it down the toilet. The first clue of Lyme disease that you will receive will be from your body. In describing the symptoms of Lyme disease it is important to realize that while there are typical signs and symptoms of the illness, there are also many exceptions. In fact, Lyme disease has been called "the great imitator" because it mimics a variety of other illnesses. About 60% of those people bitten by an infected tick will get a rash. The rash may be circular, with a whitish center, resembling a bull's-eye target, or it may be oblong, in one area, or widespread; it may even feel hot to the touch. This will usually be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as general aches and pain, headache and neck stiffness, with or without a fever. The important thing is to seek medical treatment immediately. The first symptoms usually go away, and if left untreated the disease will cause more serious symptoms. Untreated or improperly treated Lyme disease can damage the eyes, the nervous system, the heart and the joints. It has caused double vision, conjunctivitis, light sensitivity, blindness, and increased eye pressure. It damages the ability to concentrate, causes personality changes, memory problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, paralysis, vertigo, Bell's palsy and seizures, to mention a few. It can also give you an irregular heartbeat and many other problems, such as joint pain and hepatitis.When you suspect that you have been bitten by a tick or that you have LymeDisease, you should realize that the medical community has no single protocol for treatment of the condition. No readily available test is 100% accurate for the detection of Lyme disease. The symptoms may be the best indicators. Antibiotics are usually effective in treatment, especially in the early stages. Later symptoms may require higher doses of antibiotics for longer periods. Physicians differ in opinion as to the choice of antibiotic, oral versus intravenous administration, and the duration of treatment. If infected, you may have to see more than one physician. Your family doctor may refer you to one or more specialists, depending on your symptoms. While most people seem to recover fully after effective treatment, others do not and continue to deal with the many symptoms of Lyme disease in its chronic form.Human vaccines are currently available, but none provide absolute protection. Current estimates of infection prevention are about eighty percent. Because their development was rushed, certain populations were not included in early testing and you need to ask your physician to make sure the vaccine is appropriate for your age group and state of health. Medical experts are even divided on if the vaccine is appropriate for people who have chronic Lyme disease. Prevention is still the best action to take. Wearing light-colored clothing with long sleeves and tucking pants into your socks when in grassy, wooded or planted fields is suggested. At work your choice of dress may be restricted to your uniform, professional appearance may rule, and you may have little choice about going into areas with ticks. You may want to carry a small can of insect repellent in your patrol vehicle to provide additional protection when on foot. Read the label, follow directions for safe use, and make sure that it works on ticks!Check with your family physician before using insect repellents to protect children. Once indoors, check yourself, family members, and pets carefully. Canines and family pets are also at risk of being stricken by Lyme disease. Your veterinarian can assist you in developing a care program for their protection. You, of course, are responsible for your own protection. But as you already know, awareness and prevention go a long way in putting the odds in your favor from the hazards that you face in your workday.For additional information you can contact: Lyme Disease Foundation 24-hour hotline: 800-886-LYMEOffice telephone: 860-525-2000Fax: 860-525-TICKWebsite: www.Lyme.org




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