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Beware: Tick-borne illnesses on the rise

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Posted: May. 29, 2018 12:01 am

Now that winter has finally faded into memory, local residents are cleaning off their lawn furniture and heading outdoors, ready to enjoy the season. Unfortunately, people are not the only ones looking to make the most of the warm weather, said Marty Theys, vice president of the Tick-Borne Disease Support Network.

“People think ticks die off over the winter, but as much as we might wish that to be true, they’re here to stay,” Theys said. “At best, they might go dormant for a few months. At this point in the season, though, they’re wide awake and out looking for a meal.”

 

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Diseases caused by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas have tripled in the United States within the last 15 years, according to information recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The troubling study indicates that cases of vector-borne diseases such as Lyme, anaplasmosis and powassan viral encephalitis jumped from 27,388 in 2004 to 96,075 in 2016.

“It’s a real problem,” said Theys, who has been suffering with Lyme disease for more than 20 years. “Since tick-borne diseases can be very hard to diagnose and even harder to treat, it’s incredibly important to take a proactive, preventative approach.”

To help spread important information about tick-borne diseases, Theys and TBD Support Network presenter John Celmer, of Andover Township, are looking to take a new approach to educating the public by taking their years of collective experience on the road.

“We have put together a presentation about tick-borne diseases that we would be more than happy to share with anyone who wants to learn more about this,” said Celmer, whose daughter has struggled with Lyme disease and a number of co-infections for many years. The traveling presentation, Theys said, can be “incredibly beneficial” for organizations like municipal departments, sports teams, gardening clubs, recreation programs and “anybody else who plans to spend a fair amount of time outside this summer.”

“There have been a number of lawsuits in recent years where people have been bitten by a tick while on the job and turned around to sue their employers,” Theys said. “The argument has been that while it might have been hard to know exactly when someone was bitten, these companies or government groups who knew they were hiring people to work outside should have trained their employees on what to do in that situation.”

The TBD Support Network is a non-profit organization based in Pike County, Pa., that offers educational opportunities, advocacy, information and encouragement for people with tick-borne illnesses.

“We’re not charging for these presentations because we really do believe that this is important,” Celmer said. However, he added that at-will donations are appreciated.

The presentation includes information on how to identify disease-carrying ticks, the types of complications that can arise from contact with a tick, preventative suggestions and tips on what to do in the event of a bite.

“One of the biggest mistakes that people make is that once they have been bitten, they take the tick and flush it down the toilet,” Theys said. “Don’t do that. Keep it in a plastic bag and contact a service like East Stroudsburg University or TickCheck that can test it for bacteria.”

According to information found on the East Stroudsburg University website, a number of tests can be performed on a tick whether it is sent in dead or alive.

Testing costs at East Stroudsburg range from $50 to $100, depending on the required service.

Though sending a tick out for testing may seem somewhat cost-prohibitive, Celmer said, knowing whether the offending tick was affected with anything can mean the difference between an accurate diagnosis and years of misinformation.

“It’s not always easy to get an accurate diagnosis with a tick-borne disease because they tend to present very common, flu-like symptoms,” Celmer said. “If you know ahead of time that the tick was carrying something, it can be much easier for a doctor to know how to proceed.”

This year, a new type of tick that has been found in New Jersey is causing a renewed sense of fear around the little poppy seed-sized bloodsuckers.

In April, an East Asia tick — a known carrier of a disease called severe fever with thrombocytopenia (SFTA) — was found in Hunterdon County and identified by scientists at Rutgers University.

According to the Centers for Disease Controls, SFTA is an emerging infectious disease that is characterized by fever, gastrointestinal signs and symptoms, a drop in white blood cell production, platelet deficiencies and organ failure.

It was first described in northeast and central China in 2009 and has now been discovered in Japan and South Korea.

In some cases, the disease can lead to death.

“The ticks that were found in Hunterdon County were not carrying the disease, which is good news, but maybe just for now,” Theys said. “This is a prime example of why it’s so important to make sure that ticks are being sent out to be checked.”

In general, Theys said, the worst thing that a person can do after being bitten by a tick of any kind is to wait too long to address the situation.

“The longer a tick is embedded in the skin, the more likely it is to transmit a disease,” Theys said. “It’s very important to check yourself, your children and your pets at least once a day, especially at this time of year.”

Another common mistake that people tend to make, Celmer said, is “listening to too many old wives’ tales.”

“Just because you don’t see a big red bull’s-eye on your skin does not mean that you should ignore a tick bite,” Celmer said, noting that more than half of those affected by Lyme disease never see the telltale rash.

“Any time you are bitten by a tick, you need to go to the doctor. You have to catch these things early if you want to treat them the right way.”

Though the threat of a tick bite is almost enough to drive people back indoors even in the best of weather, Theys said taking the right approach to living with them can make all the difference.

“Ticks are a part of life, especially in rural areas like Sussex County,” he said. “You want to be vigilant, and you want to make sure that you’re taking whatever precautions you can to protect yourself. Check yourself regularly for ticks. Use insecticides. Do what you can. It’s not about being scared, it’s just about being smart. “

For more information about the Tick Borne Disease Support Network or to schedule a tick-related training workshop, visit www.tbdsupportnetwork.org or call 570-503-6334.

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