Awareness and Prevention are the Best Medicine to Fight Lyme Disease
Suffolk County, one of the country’s highest risk areas for tick-borne disease
STONY BROOK, NY, JUNE 26, 2014— With the arrival of the warmer summer weather comes tick season, and with that, the threat of Lyme disease. Suffolk County is one of the country’s highest risk areas, so Long Island parents should be aware of the risks of tick-borne disease in children. Saul Hymes, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Director of the Pediatric Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Children’s, offers some tips and advice on how to stay healthy this summer.
"Overall, Lyme disease is a growing problem for Suffolk County, with as many as 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year," said Dr. Hymes. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are approximately 300,000 cases annually across the country, although only 10 percent get reported. "This means that awareness is low, and that many people may not be receiving prompt or appropriate treatment. When Lyme disease goes undiagnosed, especially in children, there can be serious complications. However, know that treatment is extremely effective, especially if started early."
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by the bite of the Ixodes scapularis tick. "Symptoms that may alert you to possible Lyme disease infection include rash, headache, and flu-like symptoms in the early stages followed by joint pain or neurological problems," said Dr. Hymes. More severe cases can progress to a Bell¹s Palsy (facial paralysis) or meningitis. Other common illnesses carried by ticks local to Long Island include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis, and STARI.
But Dr. Hymes says prevention is the best medicine. "First, families should try to avoid direct contact with ticks, which is not always easy, but try staying away from wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter," said Dr. Hymes. "When hiking with kids on these great summer days, walk in the center of the trails. Wearing long sleeves and long pants is best. After your nature walk or hike, do a 'tick check’: parents should look for ticks hiding under their children's arms, in and around their ears, inside their belly button, behind their knees, between their legs, around their waist, and especially in their hair. And don’t forget, ticks are very hard to see so search carefully!"
Other tips from Dr. Hymes include: Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to more easily find and wash off ticks that are crawling on you. Examine gear and pets; ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and backpacks. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for ten minutes before washing them, to kill remaining ticks.
"Using bug and tick repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing will provide extra protection and can last for several hours," says Dr. Hymes. He reminds, parents should always follow product instructions and should apply this product to their children themselves, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth. Dr. Hymes adds, “Newer data also suggests 0.5% Permethrin may be even more effective than DEET. It should not be placed on skin but instead applied to clothing, where it can remain effective for weeks."
And if your child has a tick bite or you suspect they might have Lyme disease, Dr. Hymes says seek medical treatment from an expert. "At Stony Brook, Lyme disease, quite simply, is one of our areas of expertise," said Dr. Hymes. "In fact, our Lyme laboratory has such high-quality testing that doctors and hospitals from around the country send their samples to us."
When the symptoms of Lyme disease began emerging in the population, the test to confirm Lyme disease was invented by a Stony Brook microbiologist. Since Suffolk County has been an epicenter for the disease from the beginning, Stony Brook has dedicated resources to understanding the disease process, investigating causes and treatments, and developing evidence-based best practices.
About the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital:
The new Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, staffed by members of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, provides multidisciplinary, comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management of Lyme and other diseases transmitted by ticks. Board-certified pediatricians with additional specialty training in pediatric infectious diseases have the expertise in treating all types of pediatric infectious diseases, including Lyme disease, and are up to date on all relevant tick disease-related treatments and research. After a tick bite, or if symptoms of Lyme disease are suspected, the team at Stony Brook Children’s can perform a complete medical history, appropriate screenings and laboratory tests, a physical exam, tick identification, follow-up management and referrals to other pediatric medical experts, if needed.
About Stony Brook Children’s Hospital:
Established in June 2010, Stony Brook Children's Hospital is Suffolk County’s only children’s hospital. More than 7,000 children and adolescents are admitted each year. Stony Brook Children’s operates 100 pediatric beds and has more than 140 full-time pediatric physicians and surgeons in 30 different specialties and over 200 voluntary pediatric faculty members. The hospital is the Level 4 Regional Perinatal Center for our area and has a Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It is home to the nation’s first Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center and also offers a Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, Pediatric Cardiology Program, Pediatric HIV and AIDS Center, Cystic Fibrosis Center and the Cody Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. To learn more, visit www.stonybrookchildrens.org.