November 30, 2021

Beware of Lyme disease

As we head outdoors after coronavirus quarantine, eager ticks await

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Justin and Ariana Mathews check their phones Saturday at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortlandville. With COVID-19 closing entertainment venues, the state could potentially see more cases of Lyme disease as more people heading outdoors may not know how to protect against ticks or what tick bites look like.

With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling or closing many summer entertainment venues, people may be setting their sights on spending more time outdoors.

And though more people may be outdoors, the risk of getting Lyme disease this summer isn’t higher than normal, said Bryon Backenson, the director of bureau communicable disease control at the state Department of Health, who specializes in ticks and mosquitos.

“The risk is the risk no matter who the individual is,” he said.

However, Backenson added: “We may wind up seeing more cases because there are more people who are out who may not know what to look for” and who haven’t read safety information on tick bite and Lyme disease prevention.”

The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2018 for New York, the most recent year statistics are available for, was 2,446, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lyme disease can occur when a tick, most commonly a deer tick, bites a person and remains attached for 36 hours or more, according to the state Department of Health.

Symptoms of Lyme disease include a bullseye-shaped rash and flu-like symptoms including chills, body aches, Backenson said.

The flu-like symptoms, he said, may make people think that they may have COVID-19. However, the coronavirus also can involve respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, which is not associated with Lyme disease.

“With everyone’s attention on COVID, physicians may test for that before Lyme disease,” Backenson said.

Prevent tick bites

Before hiking:

  • Wear long sleeves and long pants.
  • If wearing short sleeves or pants, spray repellent on skin. n Wear bright-colored clothes.
  • Spray clothes with permethrin.

After hiking:

  • Check body for ticks, especially warm and moist areas like armpits.
  • Take a shower.
  • Run clothes through the dryer.

Symptoms of Lyme disease:

  • A bullseye rash.
  • Flu-like symptoms including chills and body aches.
  • In severe cases, intense headaches, painful arthritis and joint swelling.

SOURCE: State Department of Health

Ariana Mathews of Cortland was hiking Saturday at Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortlandville when she said she wasn’t surprised about the potential for people getting Lyme disease who may not have much experience hiking outdoors.

“Probably people haven’t paid attention in the past and now they’re outdoors more because they can’t go to stores,” she said as she walked with her husband, Justin Mathews.

Ariana Mathews said she makes sure to wear repellent when she hikes and checks herself when she comes back.

Rolling around in the grass isn’t such a great idea, either.

“That’s where they come from,” she said with a laugh.

Hikers should remain diligent about spotting ticks, but the first of two times a year when ticks are the most prevalent — from May to the middle of July and October to the first frost — is coming to an end, Backenson said.

During this period, nymphs, or the adolescent ticks, are the most prevalent. They tend to be the size of a poppyseed and are not as infectious as their adult counterparts, but can still spread the disease as people may miss them.

Backenson recommends that if people are worried they might have Lyme disease or COVID-19, they should speak with their physician.

“If you’ve been in a position where you’ve been bitten by a tick or have been outdoors, you should volunteer that information so you can get both a COVID and Lyme disease test,” he said.