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Rhode Islanders Urged To Take Precautions to Protect Against Lyme Disease

With warmer weather and longer days now in Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) urge everyone to take precautions to protect against Lyme disease when heading outdoors.

"Our comprehensive approach to Lyme disease in Rhode Island entails getting prevention messaging throughout the state, with a focus on those communities that are most affected by Lyme, while also working to ensure that everyone who is experiencing the symptoms of Lyme disease gets thorough, quality care," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Using repellent, checking for ticks, and removing ticks will help Rhode Islanders stay healthy and safe while enjoying our state's beautiful wooded areas and parks in the months to come. When it comes to Lyme disease, an ounce of prevention is absolutely worth a pound of cure."

"Promoting enjoyment of Rhode Island's beautiful, historic parks and forestlands are core to our mission," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "We encourage people to get outside and connect with nature. But equally important is doing so safely. Being aware of the risk of Lyme disease and taking precautions to protect yourself against ticks are key while outdoors."

Approximately 900 Rhode Islanders are infected with Lyme disease each year. In 2014, Rhode Island had the fourth highest rate of Lyme disease in the country. Washington County, where there are more wooded and brushy areas with high grass, consistently has the highest rate of Lyme disease in Rhode Island. Ticks that carry Lyme disease are most prevalent in Rhode Island from May through September. In order to transmit Lyme disease to a human being, a ticked has to be attached to the skin for 36 hours or more.

To help protect against Lyme disease, Rhode Islanders should: Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaves; (If you are going to be in wooded and brushy areas, spray your clothes with Permethrin to keep ticks away); Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors; Wear light-colored clothing, so that ticks can be more easily identified; Tuck your pants into their socks so that ticks do not crawl under clothing; Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within 2 hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks; Check yourself, your family, and your pets daily for ticks, so that if attached, a tick is removed within a 24 hour period, which then makes Lyme disease much less likely; Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror if you have been in a grassy or wooded area. Parents should check children carefully for ticks, including hidden locations like under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the scalp, in hair. If you find a tick, remove it with fine-tipped tweezers. Deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, can be as small as a poppy seed and difficult to see during the spring and summer months when they have not yet fully developed.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that spread through the bite of an infected tick that has been attached for at least 36 hours. Symptoms of new onset Lyme disease can include fever, 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. If someone experiences any of these symptoms and has had a tick bite, they should contact their doctor about concerns for Lyme disease.

May is Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Awareness Month. Other tick-borne illnesses in Rhode Island are anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Health officials are also concerned about Powassan, a new tick-borne disease to southern New England. While Powassan is extremely rare, it causes brain inflammation and serious illness.

As part of a larger Lyme disease education campaign, RIDOH and DEM have circulated It Only Takes One Bite posters throughout Rhode Island, with a focus on Washington County and Block Island.

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