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Ticks Season Begins Early in Greenwich

GREENWICH, Conn. – With spring in the air in Greenwich, ticks are in the grass. And in the bushes. And in the woods. This season, ticks carrying Lyme disease arrived sooner than ever.

“The researchers we are in touch with who do regular sweeps for ticks, found active ticks much earlier in the season than in previous seasons,” said Peter Wild, executive director of Time for Lyme. The Greenwich group hosts a regular support group for residents affected by the disease.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, commonly known as the deer tick.

Wylde said the medical community blames climate change. “It’s getting warmer and they’re moving north,” he said. “We are talking to a researcher who is developing a hypothesis that ticks do well in areas of high humidity.”

The United States has more cases of Lyme disease reported than any other vector-borne illness. Cases of tick-borne disease have been steadily rising, tripling from 10,000 reported cases in 1992 to 30,000 in 2009, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And, the CDC says that in 2010, 94 percent of Lyme disease cases were reported from 12 states, including Connecticut and New York.

In fact, more than a dozen illnesses are transmitted by ticks in the United States. Far less common than Lyme disease but also carried by the diminutive deer tick , Babesiosis is caused by an infection from the parasite Babesia microti. It thrives in red blood cells and, for those with compromised immune systems, can be fatal.

The Greenwich Health Department’s laboratory continues to test deer ticks, dead or alive, for the presence of borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, and Babesia microti, the causative agent for babesiosis. In 2010-11, the lab tested more than 600 deer ticks for borrelia and 568 for Babesia.

Of those checked for Lyme disease, 27 percent tested positive, while 3 percent were positive for Babesia. One percent tested positive for both.

Wylde says health officials are also seeing another major tick-borne disease, called anaplasmosis. The disease triggers similar symptoms as babesiosis and borrelia.

“One of the big problems is it’s hard for you to know if you’ve got Lyme or not. They mimic the symptoms of other things like the flue or multiple sclerosis,” said Wylde. “The diagnosis is not as definitive as it needs to be, and a lot of physicians are reluctant to diagnose Lyme.” Time for Lyme is putting much of its grant money to support researchers with promising projects to develop a true diagnostic tool.

Most cases of Lyme disease happen in the late spring and summer when young ticks are active and people spend more time outdoors. The disease is most common in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and North Central states, which account for nearly 95 percent of reported cases.

To avoid Lyme disease the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the following suggestions:

Know where you'll find ticks, which live in moist and humid environments, in or near wooded or grassy areas. You can come into contact with them during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through vegetation such as leaf litter or shrubs. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails.

Use an insect repellent on skin or clothing with DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamideor) and permethrin on clothing and gear. Products with permethrin, which remains protective through several washings, can be used to treat boots and clothing. Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET can be applied to the skin and can protect up to several hours. Parents should apply repellents to their children and take care to avoid hands, eyes and mouth.

Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even if only briefly and in your yard. When you've left a potentially tick-infested area, search your entire body for ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any ticks. Take special care to check these parts of your child's and your body for ticks:

• Under the arms

• In and around the ears.

• Inside the belly button.

• Back of the knees.

• In and around all head and body hair.

• Between the legs.

• Around the waist.

• Ticks can be carried into the house on clothing and pets so both should be examined carefully. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks.

Contact the Department of Health laboratory at 203-622-7843 for information about tick testing, Lyme disease and babesiosis.

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