Engineering News

Americans Increasingly Sickened By Ticks
Wednesday March 29, 5:09 am ET

May-July is Prime Time for Precautions

WASHINGTON, March 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Americans are increasingly developing tick-borne illnesses -- most commonly Lyme disease -- due to ever-changing ecosystems and development in the countryside. With warmer weather bringing ticks and people into contact, experts urge consumers to protect against the tiny parasites, including using repellents, says the DEET Education Program, a repellent industry initiative to provide information to consumers and healthcare professionals.

"People are moving into wooded rural areas, which are prime tick habitats," says Marc Dolan, entomologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He says numerous tick-borne diseases exist in America and ticks often transmit multiple infections. One reason for the spread of Lyme, which is transmitted by deer ticks, is the growth and geographical spread of the whitetail deer population that is a host for the Lyme bacteria.

The CDC reports a dramatic increase in Lyme in recent years, from 11,700 cases in 1995 to 21,304 last year. While reporting has improved, the CDC says Lyme still is "greatly underreported." Most prevalent in the Northeast and upper Midwest, Lyme is found nationwide.

"Tick-borne diseases can be found all across the country, and Lyme has been reported in every state except Montana," says Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association. Two of her daughters developed Lyme and one became so ill she could not attend school for four years.

Lyme can be devastating if not treated early. Another tick-borne disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, can be fatal. It is most common in the South, despite the name, with the highest incidence in North Carolina. U.S. cases increased dramatically to 1,843 last year from 695 in 2001.

Experts suggest some simple but effective measures to protect against ticks.

"When you're in the woods from early May to early July, the nymphal (young) ticks that carry Lyme disease are most active, so you should use a repellent such as DEET on exposed skin and clothing," Dolan says. "The young ticks are very small and difficult to spot, which is another reason why Lyme disease is such a problem."

To repel ticks, the CDC recommends using DEET products with concentration levels of 20 to 30 percent. Repellent makers say, based on extensive testing, 15 percent DEET repels ticks. Dolan suggests applying permethrin to clothing (never on skin). It's helpful to wear light-colored clothing to better find ticks and wear long pants with the cuffs tucked under the socks.

Dolan strongly recommends performing a thorough tick check after coming indoors from a tick-infested area. If a tick is attached to the skin for less than 24 hours, the possibility of infection is extremely low. Tick checks involve closely examining clothing and skin for ticks, with special attention to the ears, in and around the hair, under the arms, behind the knees, around the waist and between the legs.

When a tick is found attached, it's critical to detach it properly using tweezers because incorrect removal makes infection more likely.

"When applied with common sense, DEET-based repellents can be expected to provide a safe as well as long-lasting repellent effect," according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. The American Academy of Pediatrics says repellents containing up to 30 percent DEET can be used on children over two months of age.

"For nearly 50 years, DEET has been the gold standard for effectiveness against mosquitoes, ticks and many other insects," says Susan Little, DEET Education Program executive director, who urges consumers to carefully follow label instructions.

The DEET Education Program provides free educational brochures in English and Spanish.

Source: DEET Education Program

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