Saratoga County

Lyme disease creeps north

The county Public Health Department is getting 10 to 15 confirmed reports of Lyme disease every day,

The county Public Health Department is getting 10 to 15 confirmed reports of Lyme disease every day, and the county appears to be headed for a record year for the disease.

That indicates deer ticks carrying the Lyme bacteria are living in the county’s grasslands and woods, although state officials don’t yet consider the disease endemic to the county.

“The state is not calling us endemic, but we are seeing more cases among people who haven’t traveled,” said Terri Stortz, the county health department’s communicable disease coordinator.

Last year, county residents had 126 confirmed Lyme disease cases, but the year before that, the number was 83, according to the state Health Department. Stortz couldn’t provide year-to-date totals Wednesday, but acknowledged this year will probably set a record.

As recently as five years ago, anyone in the county who had Lyme disease was believed to have picked it up somewhere else. There were only 11 cases among county residents in 2003.

Statistics provided Wednesday by the state Health Department show a steady upward trend in the Capital Region counties. Provisional 2007 totals show 427 cases in Albany, 34 in Schenectady, 349 in Rensselaer, seven in Montgomery, 11 in Schoharie, and one in Fulton. In all the counties with multiple cases, last year was a record year.

It’s been thought diseased ticks aren’t in the Adirondacks, but remote Hamilton County had three cases last year, and Warren County had a record 20 cases.

Figures for this year to date aren’t available, but a continued upward trend wouldn’t surprise state officials.

“Obviously, this is moving north,” said Claire Pospisil, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department.

In general, Lyme disease has had the highest concentration of cases in the Hudson Valley and Long Island.

Since Lyme became a reportable disease in 1986, some 77,000 cases have been reported in New York, according to the Health Department. Nationally, the concentration of cases is in the Northeast, with New York having the most cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The state’s testing of ticks has been focused in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region, but this summer is being spread statewide.

Tick season generally lasts from spring until the first frost, though ticks reappear if there is prolonged warm weather in the fall.

Rainy weather this year may be contributing to this year’s local increase. “There’s a lot of ticks this year,” Stortz said.

Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but can be debilitating if left untreated for a length of time. It often begins with muscle ache and other flu-like symptoms, and most people — but not everyone — develop a bull’s-eye shaped rash.

Officially confirming a case requires two tests, but many private physicians are now beginning antibiotic treatment on patients after just one test, said Janet Glenn, the county’s acting public health director.

That means public health is learning of cases, then following up to see if the confirming test was done.

“There’s no question we’re missing some cases,” Stortz said.

The county also collects ticks for testing by the state Health Department, though that testing only determines the type of tick and whether it has been feeding, not whether it has the bacteria.

“We’ll give that information to the physician for use in making the diagnoses,” Stortz said.

In response to the increase in diagnoses, the county Personnel Department is going to be distributing information about Lyme disease prevention to town highway departments, whose workers are often working around brush and in outdoor places where deer ticks are found.

Some towns are also putting Lyme disease prevention information on their Web sites, or making it available at Town Hall.

“We’re just trying to prevent it a little,” said Corinth Supervisor Richard Lucia, chairman of the county’s Public Health Committee.

Deer ticks are no bigger than a poppy seed. They dig into the skin, drawing blood and sharing the bacteria that spreads Lyme disease.

It’s best to pull a tick straight out of the body with tweezers, according to health officials. It can be done at home, since the tick needs to be attached for 24 to 36 hours to transmit the disease.

Prevention advice from the state Health Department, for those active outdoors, includes wearing light-colored clothing to better see the tiny insects, tucking shirts and pantlegs in and using repellent.

Categories: Schenectady County

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