FRANKLIN — Businesses, stores and camps are opening, and after what can be described as a rough spring, people are finally able to be outside of their homes. Whether that means a socially distanced trip to the golf course, or getting outside for some yard work, people are going to be exposed to some new environments, and people, and ticks didn’t take the season off.
The black-legged, or deer tick, is a carrier for Lyme disease. Full grown, these ticks are sesame-seed sized, much smaller than their cousin the dog tick. Young nymphs are only poppyseed sized, and easy to miss by someone not vigilant when doing a tick check.
Early symptoms of Lyme include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes, with or without the characteristic bullseye rash, and can mimic symptoms of COVID-19. Lyme disease is under-diagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that for the 30,000 cases diagnosed annually, there are 300,000 total cases, meaning just 10 percent of cases are identified. Symptoms of late Lyme can be more serious, like severe headaches and neck stiffness, facial palsy, arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints, intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones, heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat, dizziness or shortness of breath, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, nerve pain, or shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet. Early diagnosis is important for early treatment.
People may wonder what this means when the message from so many providers is to leave a message for non-emergent needs.
“Be honest and clear with your providers about your symptoms,” advises Krystin Albert, chief executive officer of Franklin VNA & Hospice. “If you are having symptoms that match COVID-19 or Lyme, that is a very valid reason to call your provider. If you have visited areas that ticks are common – tell them, they may decide to add a Lyme test to any other tests they run. If you remove a tick make sure to save it. They will likely want to send the tick out for testing, and may want to start you on antibiotics immediately.”
TickFreeNH.org is a resource to use, and has a video on how to check for ticks when coming in from outdoors, as well as how to dress for being outdoors, and tick removal. They advise, when an attached tick is found, to use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Twisting or jerking the tick can cause the mouth to break off and remain in the skin. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and hands with rubbing alcohol, or soap and water. Wrap the tick tightly in clear tape and place in a sealed bag or container, or submerge in rubbing alcohol in a sealed container, to preserve for testing. Put the date on the container to remember when the tick was removed.
“With all the excitement of being able to get out of our houses and picnic with friends, go to the park, or just go for a hike, we still need to make sure we are taking care of our health,” Albert says. “Wear sunblock, socially distance responsibly.”