Health & Wellness

With Lyme Disease on the Rise in Area, Experts Offer Advice on Staying Safe

With five confirmed cases of Lyme Disease in the Westfield area recently, experts are urging residents to take precautions when enjoying the outdoors. Credits: K. Brochu

WESTFIELD, NJ — Local experts anticipate an increase in Lyme Disease this spring. Experts urge precaution to aid in prevention.

“We are certainly expecting to see more Lyme’s this year,” said health officer Megan Avallone at an April Westfield Board of Health meeting. “The problem is that you don’t know you have it until late manifestation.”

The rise in cases is likely due to the increase in white-footed mice. Blacklegged ticks feed on these rodents and become infected with Borrelia Burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme Disease.

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“Since ticks feed on mice and deer, anything that affects the tick, mouse or deer population could influence the number of Lyme cases,” said Dr. Daniel Hart, an infectious disease specialist at Summit Medical Group. “Any New Jersey resident can walk into their backyard and be bit by a tick with Lyme.”

The best way to avoid contracting this disease is to take simple precautions when outdoors. The Westfield Board of Health provides these tips.

  1. Avoid potential tick-infested areas. Keep your grass cut low. Avoid overgrown grass, brush and leaf piles. Walk in the center of trails.
  2. Wear insect repellant of at least 20 percent DEET on clothes and exposed skin. You can use permethrins on clothes, but not on skin.
  3. After an outing, check your children and yourself for ticks. Remove any ticks found with tweezers.
  4. Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they are outside. Remove any ticks found.
  5. Shower soon after being outdoors to wash off and more easily find ticks on yourself.
  6. Get medical advice if you get a fever or rash.

Hart added that performing daily tick checks, spraying clothes with repellent, protecting pets and covering exposed skin can also help in the prevention of contracting Lyme Disease. Local landscapers are helping to ease residents’ fears by offering tick management solutions for their yards. Caffrey Tree & Landscape in Scotch Plains is one of those that offers a tick and mosquito control package.

“The product we use contains the same chemicals that you find in flea collars, sprays and powders that are safe for your pets. It is approved by the World Health Organization and we feel it will give you the best results,” owner Bob Caffrey said.

The solution used by Caffrey Tree & Landscape is an insecticide and insect growth regulator that is touted as offering superior performance against ticks and mosquitos for up to 60 days.  

If prevention fails and you find a tick on your body, it’s important to know that ticks must be attached for more than 24 hours before the disease can be transmitted. If you find a tick, experts advise that you remove it as soon as possible by using tweezers to grasp the tick tightly; pull the tick straight up by the head. Afterward, look out for flu-like symptoms and report any symptoms to your physician immediately.   

Early and aggressive treatment can ensure the best chance of recovery, experts say. Symptoms to look out for include the signature bullseye rash, but Westfield Board of Health member Dr. Vasilios Diamantopoulos said that that the rash is not always present. 

“It’s so rare to find that rash,” Vasilios said. “It’s vague symptoms.”  

Other symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more pronounced.  

According to Summit Medical Group, treatment of Lyme Disease typically includes a course of antibiotics. Depending on symptoms and the length of the infections, treatment may last from 10 days to several weeks. 

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