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HEALTH, DEM Encourage Rhode Islanders to Take Precautions to Prevent Tick-Borne Disease

With the population of ticks on the rise in Rhode Island, the Departments of Health (HEALTH) and Environmental Management (DEM) urge Rhode Islanders to protect themselves from tick bites when enjoying the outdoors.

"Many of us know someone affected by Lyme disease, so any increase in the tick population is of concern," said Director of Health Michael Fine, MD. "While we have observed higher numbers of deer ticks over the past two years, our primary care system is well-equipped to care for people who may need treatment for Lyme disease. Early diagnosis and treatment are important, but reducing exposure to ticks remains the best defense against Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections."

"DEM shares a common interest with the Department of Health in preventing tick bites," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "One of DEM's most important missions is to provide families with fulfilling outdoor experiences. However, the challenge lies in keeping them safe – tick safe – while they are there. We've learned that we need to take several approaches to deal with this concern, including partnerships, public education, and deer population control. As the deer population increases, so do the number of ticks, evidence that deer control is a key factor in the fight against ticks. DEM continues to focus on managing the antlerless deer population to keep the deer herd in balance with habitat and the concerns of residents."

Tick populations are increasing in nearly every area of the state. All Rhode Islanders should take steps to improve their "tick literacy" and protect themselves from tick bites. • Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors. Wear light-colored clothing. Tuck pants into socks so that ticks do not crawl under clothing. • Check yourself and your family daily for ticks, especially if you spend a lot of time outside in grassy or wooded areas. Don't forget to check your pets, too, and use products that rapidly kill or repel ticks on pets. Deer ticks, the kind that carry Lyme disease, are often small (popp yseed-sized) in their nymphal (immature) stage. • Consider wearing tick-repellant clothing when going outside in tick habitat and treating your yard with tick-killing insecticides. • If you find a tick, properly remove it with tweezers. Tick removal within 24 hours of attachment can prevent Lyme transmission. • For more information about ticks, how to avoid being bitten, and how to remove a tick, visit the University of Rhode Island's TickEncounter Resource Center at www.tickencounter.org

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that spread through the bite of an infected tick. Symptoms of new onset Lyme disease can include a 'bullseye" rash anywhere on the skin, facial or Bell's palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face), severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord), pain and swelling in the large joints (such as knees), shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, and heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat. Anyone with symptoms of Lyme disease should contact their healthcare provider. For more information on Lyme disease visit http://health.ri.gov/diseases/lyme/

HEALTH is able to make estimates of the annual incidence (number of newly diagnosed cases) of Lyme disease and other tick- and vector-borne diseases across Rhode Island. HEALTH estimates that approximately 800 cases of new Lyme infection occur every year.

HEALTH also monitors the capacity of the medical care system to respond to population health challenges.

Related links

Department or agency: Department of Health

Online: http://www.health.ri.gov

Release date: 09-09-2013

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