PRESS RELEASE: April 10, 2012
Flemington, NJ — Warm temperatures this winter are now showing signs of ecological significance. Besides an earlier, higher than normal amount of pollen and mold ushering in a potentially serious season for allergy sufferers, another concern is the likely higher risks of coming into contact with Lyme disease carrying deer ticks earlier this year.
"It just takes a few days of temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for deer ticks to become active," reported Tadhgh Rainey, entomologist and division manager with the Hunterdon County division of public health. "At this point of the year, these ticks are in their adult stage, so luckily, they are easier to spot on the body. But they are also very hungry and looking for their first blood meal of the season."
According to Rainey, if a deer tick has Lyme disease, chances are good that it could pass that disease to a human if it attaches for more than 36 hours. "We stress that everyone should be vigilant and give yourself a thorough full-body check when you come in from outdoors, especially when walking in woodsy overgrowth and off-the-path areas. Getting ticks off of you before they attach is the single best way to avoid Lyme disease."
Rainey explained that Lyme disease season in our area doesn't normally peak until June. However, because of the significantly warmer winter and more people doing outdoor activities earlier, there is a greater likelihood of a person-infected tick encounter. As the number of such encounters goes up so do the odds that Lyme disease cases will increase.
"We usually put out our first seasonal Lyme disease reminder in early May," added Rainey. "But this year is shaping up to be quite different. We're urging everyone to step up their personal prevention efforts earlier. Check for ticks and remove them promptly."
Other ways to protect yourself from ticks is to tuck your pants into socks and your long-sleeved shirts into pants to create a barrier between the ticks and skin; wear light colors and tightly woven fabrics to help spot ticks on clothing more easily and to prevent them from getting through the fabric; wear closed shoes rather than sandals when in a higher-risk area; apply insect repellants containing at least 30 percent DEET when in areas where ticks may be found (be sure not to use DEET on children under the age of three and do not apply to hands and faces of children); stay in the center of paths when possible to avoid tick-infested areas including leaf litter in wooded spots and medium to tall grassy areas.
When doing a self-check for ticks, areas to pay extra attention to are underarms, behind the knees, groin area, under the hairline and behind the ears.
"One other step worth following if you have a dog or cat is to protect your pet with a tick collar or treat them with one of the repellent products applied monthly to the skin," said Rainey. "And by all means, keep pets off the furniture."
For more information, visit the public health nursing website at http://www.co.hunterdon.nj.us/phn/lymeinfo.html.