Check for ticks every day, health district advises
New London — About three years ago, Janis Solomon went on a meadow walk without any repellant to keep the ticks off.
The Waterford woman became increasingly ill in the days that followed, and developed Lyme meningitis, which occurs when the Lyme bacteria invades the nervous system. “I was feeling really like I had been run over by a bus,” said Solomon, who was treated for 28 days with intravenous antibiotics.
Solomon was one of about a dozen people who attended Ledge Light Health District’s presentation of “Enjoying Nature Safely” on Saturday at New London Public Library.
Tick-borne illnesses spike in the summer months in Connecticut, with the highest number of cases of Lyme disease reported in June, July and August, according to data presented by Cindy Barry, senior health program coordinator for Ledge Light. In Eastern Connecticut, numbers are particularly high.
New London County reported 91.2 cases of Lyme disease per 100,000 people in 2016, compared to a rate of 49 cases per 100,000 statewide, she said.
“Doing a check for ticks every day is the No. 1 way that we can prevent ourselves from getting Lyme,” she said.
Nearly three-quarters of people who ended up with ticks on them were outside at home, she said. “Just going out to your mailbox can be the source of an outdoor tick,” Barry said.
Ticks thrive in damp and shaded environments, so she advised moving swing sets and other outdoor living space into sunny, dry areas and keeping the grass in those areas short. She also advised tucking pants into socks and shirts into shorts to limit skin exposure, wearing repellent with 30 percent DEET, taking a shower after being outside and drying clothing for 10 minutes on high heat.
Ticks can survive a warm water wash in a machine but not a cycle of dry heat in a clothes dryer, she said.
Checking for ticks regularly still is crucial, she said. Even if a tick has attached itself to someone’s skin, it takes 36 hours for the tick to transmit the bacteria it stores in its gut, she said. Because of this, removing a tick early is the best practice for prevention of disease.
To remove a tick, the best tool is fine-tipped tweezers, she said. Grab the tick close to the skin and pull steadily being careful not to twist or use a jerking motion. The goal is to get the tick to let go, and most will with slow, steady pressure, she said. Afterward, clean the wound, she said.
If someone does develop Lyme, a rash will be present in 70 percent of cases, but not all the time and not necessarily at the site of the bite, she said. She also cautioned that it takes a while for people to build up antibodies against the bacteria, so someone may have Lyme but test negative in the first 30 days.
Finally, invasive plants like Japanese barberry provide an ideal habitat for mice and ticks, so removing these plants is a worthwhile effort. For those who opt to also spray their yards, she advised seeking the services of a licensed pest control operators.
“We don’t want to keep people out of the great outdoors,” Barry said. “We just want people to remain mindful of when they’re entering tick habitats.”
Terry Perkins of Mystic said she knew much of the information already but still found the presentation useful.
“We hike all the time,” she said.
Solomon said she wishes she had been more mindful three years ago. “Don’t be careless,” she said. "That was my fault.”