Tick season is here, and as patients trickle into emergency rooms with tick bites, area health care officials are urging the public to remember one thing: 36 hours.
“It needs to be on you for a minimum of 36 hours before you need to worry,” said Dr. Dean Limeri, Ellis Medicine’s medical director of primary care.
When a tick attaches, it takes at least a day and a half for it to transmit any bacteria, including Lyme disease. But doctors say even if someone has had a tick on them for 36 hours, that doesn’t mean they’ll get Lyme disease.
“The nice thing about Lyme disease is it’s hard to get and it’s easy to treat,” he said.
As local hospitals report an average number of tick bites so far this season, the one thing physicians agree has changed is communities are more informed than ever about ticks and bite prevention.
Three years ago, Cheryl McGratten became concerned that her son wouldn’t have the same childhood she did exploring the outdoors. So she ended dinner one day with an announcement for her son and husband: “We’re going for a walk in the woods.”
They went and had fun, but when they got back, her husband noticed a little black speck on her clothing. And then another and another. About 20 ticks had jumped onto her during the woodland trek. Her husband came back with 17 ticks. Her son came back with four. It was at that time that she became determined to spread awareness about tick-bite prevention.
Three years later, the spokeswoman for Nathan Littauer Hospital has cemented the Gloversville hospital’s reputation as a leader in tick awareness.
“We’ve had some calls regarding tick bites, but not as many as we saw last year,” McGratten said. “And I think that’s a combination of two things: I think that there’s a lot more education out there, and I think that people feel more comfortable removing ticks themselves.”
Last year, Nathan Littauer brought into the area a man so renowned for his expertise on ticks that people call him the “Tick Guy.” Dr. Thomas Mather is director of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center.
He spoke to two packed forums in Fulton County on tick ecology, tick-bite protection and tick-borne disease prevention. The visits had the effect McGratten was hoping for.
A woman who attended a forum later told her, “ ‘I was out bowling and saw a bull’s-eye on one of the guys nearby and told him it could be a tick bite and he should get checked,’ ” she recalled. “And she was so excited to tell me about this because she had learned all about it from the town hall meeting. That’s what I wanted. I wanted awareness to spread at the grassroots level.”
This year, Nathan Littauer has taken awareness efforts a step further by partnering with the TickEncounter Center to provide the public with the most comprehensive tick data possible. The hospital launched a tick widget on its home page, which brings a visitor to a bite protection and disease prevention resource page that provides information on how to identify ticks, remove them safely, check for them daily, protect pets and apply repellent to clothing, among other things.
McGratten has also begun distributing waterproof shower cards to campsites and businesses with outdoor shower facilities. The cards detail where on the body to check for ticks, and serve as a reminder to outdoor enthusiasts to stay alert for the speck-sized blood feeders.
“We incurred this cost ourselves because we felt like it was important,” she said. “How do you, as a hospital sitting at the foothills of the beautiful Adirondacks, teach people to use the wonderful outdoors and not be afraid of it? We want people to enjoy the outdoors but be in a mindset of prevention. Something as simple as wearing socks soaked in Permethrin can reduce exposure to Lyme disease by almost 70 percent.”