Lyme disease reports climbing

John Christensen
The Chronicle Express

Lyme disease, the tick-borne illness that can lead to rashes, fever, fatigue, swollen joints and glands, and even long lasting disabilities, is on the rise in the Finger Lakes region. Both Yates and Ontario counties are reporting ZIP code areas with increased human cases of the infection.

"Our cases doubled in 2021 compared to 2020 but are still lower than what we saw back in 2017 and 2018," said Yates County Public Health Director Sara Christensen.  To raise awareness and help with prevention, she added, "We've increased our outreach and education over the years including having tick removal kits for the public at all our community events."

Lyme disease reports in Yates County are high in the Bellona, Branchport, Dundee, and Rock Stream zip code areas.
High numbers of Lyme disease are reported in the Naples, Honeoye, and Palmyra zip codes of Ontario County.

What is Lyme disease?

"Summer in the Finger Lakes means enjoying a variety of outdoor activities. By being aware of ticks and taking a few simple precautions it is possible to decrease your risk of getting Lyme disease this season," said Ontario County Public Health. "Additionally, by checking for rashes and reporting symptoms to your doctor, it is possible to catch Lyme disease in its early stages when it is easiest to treat."

According to the New York State Department of Health, Lyme disease is an illness humans contract from the bite and attachment of deer (aka black-legged) ticks . The disease affects the skin, joints, brain and heart. It was first identified in Lyme, Connecticut in the 1970s, but in the last 10-15 years, it has become prevalent in New York.

Deer ticks, the carriers of Lyme disease, are capable of spreading the infection no matter their size.

How do you get it?

To get Lyme disease you must be bitten by a tick infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme. In the Northeastern U.S., the only tick known to carry this  bacteria is the “deer tick” or “blacklegged tick.” This tick is very small and can be hard to see. The longer the tick is attached, the more likely it is to give you Lyme disease.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is a ringed rash called erythema migrans. Most people refer to it as a bullseye or target rash. If you see this sort of rash on your skin, it is important you have a healthcare provider take a look at it. Not everyone gets this rash, however, so be alert for other symptoms which could include:

  • Feeling tired
  • Chills/fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle/ joint aches
  • Swollen glands
  • Other types of rashes
Beyond the typical bullseye rash at the location of the tick bite, Lyme disease can lead to multiple rashes on the body.

If Lyme disease isn't treated quickly, other symptoms can develop. These include:

Bell's Palsy, a partial paralysis of the face, can be one of the log lasting effects of Lyme disease.
  • Bell’s palsy (unable to move one side of face)
  • Meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation of spinal cord or brain covering)
  • Shooting pains
  • Heart palpitations (racing)
  • Dizziness
  • Joint pain
Swollen and painful joints are another symptom of Lyme disease.

What's the treatment?

If Lyme disease is caught early enough, most people recover fully after taking antibiotics prescribed by a doctor. Learn more about treatment for Lyme disease from the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/treatment/index.html

How can I prevent Lyme disease?

  • Wear light-colored clothes, so ticks can be seen and removed more easily. Wear long sleeves and pants tucked into your shoes when participating in outside activities.
  • Keep yards tick-free. Mow grass often and clear away fallen branches and leaves around the edges of your yard. When hiking be sure to stay to the center of the hiking trails.
  • Check for ticks and shower when you come indoors. 
  • Use insect repellent per manufacturer's instructions. There are many on the market. More information from the EPA. 

Found a tick attached?

  1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Try not to crush it.
  2. Pull slowly and steadily until the tick comes out.
  3. Wash your skin with soap and warm water.
  4. Watch for fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle, joint pain and swollen joints. 70% of people with Lyme Disease will notice a bullseye rash. This rash may occur 3 to 30 days after the tick bite has occurred. Call your healthcare provider with symptoms or questions. 

DO NOT use the following to deal with attached ticks:

  • Petroleum jelly
  • A hot match
  • Nail Polish
  • Dish detergent
  • Alcohol
  • Oils and Essential Oils

Learn more about Lyme disease at www.cdc.gov/lyme/index.htm

Tick Removal