NJ is in the heart of tick season: Who is most at risk?
🔻 More than 50% of Lyme Disease cases occur in June and July in New Jersey
🔻 The classic bullseye rash at the tick bite site is the first early symptom
🔻 There is one effective medication doctors use to treat Lyme Disease
New Jersey is in the heart of tick season. Know who is most at risk of getting Lyme Disease, the symptoms, the treatments, and most importantly, how to protect yourself from even getting a tick bite.
Who is most at risk of getting Lyme Disease?
Most cases of Lyme Disease in New Jersey occur between May and October with 50 percent of the cases occurring in June and July, said Dr. Uzma Hasan, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Cooperman Medical Center.
She said according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 95% of Lyme Disease are reported in 15 states with the Northeast being heavily impacted. In 2020, the incidence rate of Lyme in the Garden State was 27.6 cases per 100,000, more than five times the U.S. rate the same year.
The key age groups affected more than others are children ages 5 to 9 and older adults ages 55 and 59, Hasan said.
In New Jersey, the black-legged tick or the “deer tick” is responsible for the bulk of illnesses seen, she added.
Where are tick bites typically seen on the body?
In younger children, the place where tick bites usually occur is along the hairline. But it’s a place that’s often missed because many don’t think that’s where at tick bite will occur, Hasan warned.
In older adults, bites are normally found in the lower extremities.
What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?
Hasan said the symptoms of Lyme Disease usually occur in three stages. Stage 1 is the earliest stage. This is the classic bullseye rash that usually appears at the site of the tick bite. It’s an expanding rash or a target-like rash that expands over a period of 7 to 10 days. It can appear anywhere between 3 and 30 days after a tick bite.
The second stage of Lyme Disease is early disseminated infection which occurs one month to three months out from tick exposure. During this phase, organs are affected.
They can present with meningitis, heart inflammation, facial nerve palsy, or Bell’s Palsy, and they can present with multiple rashes.
The third stage of Lyme Disease which occurs more than three months out is Lyme Arthritis.
What are the most effective treatments used?
The most effective and preferred medicine of choice is doxycycline, said Hasan.
“Previously there were concerns about staining of teeth and hesitation to use that in younger children. Those concerns have all been refuted by data that we now have available,” she said.
One advantage of doxycycline is that it also coverage against other species. So, when parents are worried about tick species that carry other diseases besides Lyme, rest assured that doxycycline protects against other organisms and their diseases, as well, Hasan said.
Once you have Lyme Disease, do you have it forever?
The majority of people with Lyme Disease do get better with doxycycline, Hasan said. But while the drug is very effective, there are 1 in 20 people who may have some lingering symptoms of pain, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and chronic fatigue-like symptoms more than six months out.
But she said this is not due to failure of the treatment regimen but rather more like a chronic fatigue regimen.
More medication will not help with this chronic fatigue regimen, either. In fact, Hasan said The National Institute of Health (NIH) issued a statement saying that it does not recommend repeated courses of antibiotics for Lyme Disease. They can be harmful because they could wipe out good bacteria flora in the belly, and make a person vulnerable to other drug-resistant infections.
“So, it’s called chronic Lyme Disease or post-Lyme Disease syndrome. It’s more often an immune response rather than related to the bacteria itself and prolonged antibiotics do not seem to be beneficial in those case scenarios,” Hasan said.
How can we avoid Lyme Disease while outdoors?
When hiking, stay in the middle of the trail and avoid going through high grass or the woods. Hasan said ticks like to hang out in high grass and then stick to a person’s body when they brush up against the grass.
Ticks do not like dry areas. They survive and thrive in high humidity. Hasan suggested that when setting up backyard play equipment, do so away from the woods. Create a barrier of dry wood chips or gravel between the play area and the woods area to prevent tick migration.
Wear closed shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when outside. Tuck pant legs into shoes to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs.
Use insect repellant.
She also recommends doing a tick inspection each and every time you come in from the outside. Remove all clothing and bathing within two hours of coming inside.
“The trouble areas where ticks can hide are usually under the arms or in and around the ears. Sometimes, we’ll see in the younger kids around the belly buttons or back of the knees,” Hasan said.
Also look for ticks at the hairline, between the legs and around the waist.
How to remove a tick from the body?
Hasan said if you happen to find a tick, remove it with a tweezer. But remove it close to the skin surface. Remove in one smooth pull rather than twist the tweezer and risk breaking the tick apart. Always wash the infected area with warm, soapy water as well.
Some more good news!
Hasan said there are always scientific breakthroughs when it comes to Lyme Disease. Besides effective medication, there is a vaccine in the works. It’s in phase 3 of its trial.