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BREWSTER, NY— Every year as spring gets underway, warm weather and the natural beauty of Putnam County bring more people outdoors. While there is evidence to support the idea that spending time in nature is good for one’s mental and physical health, outdoor activities are unfortunately not without risk. Tickborne diseases persist and rise every spring and summer in the Hudson Valley. So, the Putnam County Department of Health, like other health departments in the state, urge residents to take adequate precautions.
“Tickborne illnesses are common here, and in fact, in the entire northeast region of the country. Fortunately, our local health department provides education and resources on how to stay healthy and avoid illnesses,” said County Executive Kevin Byrne. “After winter, it’s easy to understand the urge to spend time outdoors. Everyone should be encouraged to enjoy the natural resources around our county. It is also important to keep in mind that our beautiful countryside, which we value so highly, is also home to potentially hidden concerns.”
“Personal protection strategies are still the number-one way that we have to reduce the risk of contracting a tickborne illness,” said the Interim Health Commissioner Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD. “Our county bears a disproportionately high burden of these diseases. Lyme, anaplasmosis and babesiosis are the three main tickborne illnesses that we see here in Putnam, and all are transmitted by the black-legged tick, commonly referred to as the deer tick, whose scientific name is Ixodes scapularis.”
Health department epidemiologist Alison Kaufman, DVM, added to the picture of how common tickborne illnesses are saying, “New York State is among the ten states in the country with the highest rates of all three of the common diseases transmitted by the black-legged tick, and Putnam has some of the highest rates among all counties in our state. Lyme cases are the most common, with an average of about 300 a year. Anaplasmosis and babesiosis also occur regularly, averaging about 30 cases a year. However, rates can vary a lot from year to year because ticks and their diseases are influenced by many ecological factors, from snowfall and acorns, to mouse populations and human behavior.”
What doesn’t change is that late spring and early summer are the riskiest seasons. That is when the tiny, young ticks called nymphs are active and searching for the blood meal they need for survival. Bites can occur in a variety of ways, with ticks mostly found close to the ground in leaf litter or low brush, but also in higher grass. Gardening, picnicking, or walking in the grass on the side of the road—each of these activities can bring a person, or pet, in contact with a tick and the risk of a bite and possible infection.
There are no vaccines currently on the market to prevent these diseases in people, but with case numbers rising and these diseases spreading geographically, the need for a vaccine is also growing. An effective Lyme disease vaccine however would still leave people reliant on personal protection measure against babesiosis and anaplasmosis. “That is why it is so important to take steps to prevent tick bites,” Dr. Nesheiwat emphasized. “Make daily tick checks a habit; cover exposed skin with clothing as the weather will allow; and use tick repellents.”
EPA or Environmental Protection Agency-registered repellents are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Examples include those containing the active ingredients Picaridin, DEET, IR3535 and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE). Clothing treated with permethrin also provides protection from tick bites. Permethrin can be purchased as a spray, or clothing can be bought pre-treated. For more information on approved repellents visit: https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you or https://espanol.epa.gov/control-de-plagas/encuentre-el-repelente-de-insectos-adecuado.
Knowledge of symptoms is also important because these diseases can be treated successfully with antibiotics. The most common Lyme symptoms include fever and chills, aches, and pains, and most, but not all, will have the tell-tale oval or circular expanding rash, often referred to as a ‘bullseye’ rash. For more details on all tickborne illness symptoms, visit https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/tickbornediseases/index.html
The mission of the Putnam County Department of Health, nationally accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), is to improve and protect the health of the entire Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services are provided through a lens of equity, and include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit our county website at www.putnamcountyny.com, or visit our social media sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @PutnamHealthNY.
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