Spring has finally arrived in New England and opportunities for outdoor activities abound. Along with many of these, there is increased exposure to tick-borne illnesses.
Tick-borne illnesses include a variety of infections transmitted among animals (including humans) by ticks.
A tick will feed on an infected animal, the tick then becomes infected and passes the bacteria along by lodging itself in the skin of other animals and humans.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. In the northeast, Lyme disease is the most well-known. Diseases such as Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis, while still rare, are gradually becoming more recognized.
Hiking, mountain biking, fishing and golf are among the activities where participants are most vulnerable to tick bites and potential Lyme disease. Following some basic rules can prevent infection:
• Stay on trails and avoid walking through high grass. This warning is especially important for golfers who invariably find themselves searching for an errant golf ball.
• Minimize exposed skin. Although it is recommended that long trousers and sleeves be worn, this is often not practical. Insect repellent should be applied liberally on any exposed area. Carefully read the label and be sure that it contains DEET and will be effective against ticks.
• Self-examine every three hours while in the field and more thoroughly after the activity. Showering to remove any residue from repellents is crucial and a good opportunity to search for ticks. Children must also be vigilantly examined, especially on the scalp.
• Four-legged companions are also susceptible and repellents such as “Frontline” are recommended by many veterinarians. Brushing with a fine comb after a hike can often find hidden ticks.
• Immediate removal of a tick is imperative. A tweezer works best and the area should be cleansed with antiseptic after removal.
When out on the golf course, pause before going into the deep grass to retrieve your ball or a newly found treasure.
Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or listen to his podcasts, comment on his blog or buy his book at backushospital.org.