Providence: With the tandem of increased outdoor activities and increased tick populations, the Department of Health (HEALTH) has partnered with other state agencies to urge Rhode Islanders to check for tick bites as the first line of prevention against Lyme disease when enjoying and working outdoors.
HEALTH, the Departments of Environmental Management (DEM) and Transportation (DOT) are working together to provide Lyme disease and tick bite prevention trainings for seasonal staff and other outdoor workers, and to place education posters at state facilities and public recreation spots, including DEM trailheads, parks, and fishing spots. The URI TickEncounter Resource Center facilitated the HEALTH-sponsored trainings.
"As we spend more time outdoors, any increase in the tick population is of concern," said Department of Health Director, 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," he said.
Additionally, HEALTH has launched a new media campaign to encourage Lyme disease awareness and tick bite prevention. The theme of this year's campaign is Repel, Check, Remove. "It only takes one bite" radio ads will run across Rhode Island throughout spring and summer—along with print, online, ferry, and RIPTA bus ads in Jamestown, New Shoreham (Block Island), and other southern Rhode Island communities where more Lyme disease cases have been reported.
"The Department of Environmental Management is dedicated to providing families with fulfilling outdoor experiences," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "At the same time we promote experiencing the great outdoors and help families learn how to latch onto nature, we have to help them learn now to keep nature from latching onto them, via ticks. We've learned that we need to take several approaches to deal with this concern, including partnerships, public education, and deer population control. Our joint effort with the Departments of Health and Transportation to offer training sessions and tick prevention education information to the public will help spread the word about the many dangers involving ticks and how to prevent tick bites."
"We were happy to partner with HEALTH and DEM to bring vital Lyme disease education and training to our workforce as well as to the public," said RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis. "Their health and safety is our highest priority, and we are committed to providing the resources people need to protect themselves while working and recreating outdoors."
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 (poppyseed-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.
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.