More than 77,000 New Yorkers have contracted Lyme disease since it became reportable 22 years ago, and the state Health Department wants to keep that number from rising.
The DOH commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines, kicked off Lyme Disease Awareness Month Wednesday with a “Tick Tour” at the DOH’s laboratory at Hudson Valley Community College, where ticks are tested for Lyme disease and other pathogens.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria passed along to the host via a bite from an infected deer tick.
Prevention measures are simple, according to the DOH Web site, which has a wealth of information on ways to stay healthy and what to do if you are bitten by a tick.
They include wearing light-colored clothing so as to better see the tiny insects, tucking shirts and pantlegs in, and using repellent.
Lyme disease can affect people of any age. Its early symptoms usually include a rash resembling a bulls-eye or a solid patch about two inches in diameter around the spot of the bite.
Other early symptoms are chills and fever, headache, fatigue, a stiff neck, muscle and joint pain, and swollen glands.
The DOH says that early detection of Lyme disease involves treatment with antibiotics and almost always results in a full recovery.
However, if the disease goes untreated it can progress to severe headaches, painful arthritis, swelling of the joints, heart and central nervous system problems.
At one time there was a vaccine available but it was pulled from the market because of slow sales.
Claire Pospisil, a spokeswoman for the DOH, said Wednesday that it’s important for people to take preventive measures because ticks are active any time the weather is above freezing.
“The message is: Always take precautions. People can do a lot to make sure they are, as we say, ‘tick free,’ ” she said.
New York ranks first among the states in the number of Lyme disease cases and the state plans to expand its surveillance program, which is primarily based in the Capital Region and Mid-Hudson Valley, she said.
The idea is to determine if other areas of the state are at risk for Lyme disease.
Pospisil said in addition to information on the DOH Web site the state is planning to put an eight-page insert in selected newspapers this Sunday that provides information on how to stay safe.
“I think it’s just important that people are aware that it’s preventable,” she said.