July 4, 1997 June 27, 1997
LYME DISEASE STILL A CONCERN IN TEXAS
Writer: Edith A. Chenault, (409) 845-2886, firstname.lastname@example.org Contact: Dr. Pete Teel, (409) 845-2516
COLLEGE STATION -- As summer heats up and more people head outdoors, precautions need to be taken to avoid two tick-borne illnesses -- Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Both diseases are still carried by ticks in Texas, according to an entomologist with Texas A&M University.
"Lyme (disease) is resident here in Texas," said Dr. Pete Teel of College Station. According to the Texas Department of Health, there were 77 cases reported by physicians in 1995 and 97 in 1996. Records to date this year suggest that the number of cases are down but the disease is still a threat to human health, he said.
Tick populations are cyclical, Teel said. The Lone Star tick and the black-legged tick, both of which carry Lyme disease, produce a generation about every year to year and a half. That could explain the high number of cases even in a drought year like 1996, he said.
Cases may be down this year, he explained, because tick populations are trying to rebound from the drought and because abundant rains this year have kept people from going outdoors as much.
As for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can be transmitted through the American dog tick, there were six cases reported in 1995 and five in 1996.
"That doesn't sound like much, but we think a lot of these cases are not reported," Teel said. "I strongly believe that what's reported to Public Health in terms of the spotted fever group activity with ticks is really the tip of the iceberg."
The American dog tick is widely scattered throughout the United States, but especially in the southeastern and the central areas. "Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can get out of hand. It's really easily treatable, it's diagnosable. However, it's often misdiagnosed because people don't think about the disease being in that area," Teel said.
The classical sign for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a small, spotted rash that occurs first on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet and then spreads to other parts of the body, he said.
The rash associated with Lyme disease is large and circular. Often it migrates outward from where it begins, taking on rings or redness and looking somewhat like a bull's-eye. "When physicians take biopsies of these rings, they actually find the corkscrew-shaped bacterium that is the causal agent of Lyme disease," Teel explained.
The rash does not necessarily occur at the site of the tick bite, he added. Other symptoms may include swelling of the large joints, such as the knees or elbows, something resembling Bell's palsy or other neurological problems where one side of the face will droop, or a severe frontal headache.
One of the difficulties in determining whether someone has Lyme disease is that it takes several weeks for the body's immune system to develop detectable antibodies. Even though the person may show symptoms, a blood test may not show the disease.
Prevention includes avoiding known tick-infested areas. But if that is impossible, Teel said to wear protective, light-colored clothing. Boots should be worn if possible, with the bottom of pant legs taped around the outside of the boots with 2-inch masking tape. The last wrap of the tape may be turned over.
"The ticks will crawl up the outside of your pants, not the inside. If you war light-colored clothing, it gives you a chance to see them and remove them. The tape gives you a physical barrier," he explained.
There are several good repellents on the market, too, he said.
Inspect children thoroughly after they may have been exposed. "Pay particular attention to the hair around the base of the scalp. That's a notorious place people tend to overlook," he said.
There have been cases of paralysis where a child had a tick feed at the base of the hair line, close to the spinal cord. "All you have to do is remove the tick and it stops the tick from injecting more toxins into the bloodstream. Usually within 24 hours that person is back up and walking around," he said.
Pets and working dogs that may go along should be inspected, as well.
Ticks may be removed by grasping it as close to the head as possible to the head region with a tissue or pair of tweezers, pulling it steadily until it releases itself from the body. Try to avoid direct contact with the tick.
Forceps should not be used since they may crush the tick, pinch the body from the head, or crush the salivary glands. Additionally, no one should use alcohol or a hot head of a match or pin. Any of these methods may cause them to salivate more and release more toxins into the body.
Teel recommended that anyone who is bitten to save the tick if possible in a container with a moistened paper towel in the refrigerator. If symptoms appear in 10 days to two weeks, the tick can be tested.
"Not all ticks are infected with either one of these agents, but if it happens to be infected, that is a tremendous aid in knowing how to diagnose and treat the illness," he said.
Once the tick is removed, rubbing alcohol may be used on the bitten area to minimize infection.
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