Teens briefed on ticks: DPH spreads the word during Lyme Disease Awareness Week

Emily Marshall with Delaware Public Health explains the dangers of ticks and Lyme disease to Smyrna Middle School students. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

SMYRNA — When Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) educator Emily Marshall asked a group of Smyrna Middle School Middle Schoolers what the best way to get rid of a dug in tick was — she heard the gamut of the typical home remedies:

“Put fire on it!” called out one student, “Freeze it!” shouted another. But, part of Ms. Marshall’s job at the 70 schools and camps she’s spoke at up and down the state is to “bust” the myths about ticks.

“The best way to get a tick out of your skin is the simplest way, with tweezers,” she said to the group. “You’re going to grab the tick — because even if it’s really tiny the tweezers can get a hold of it — and pull it straight out, firmly and quickly. If you squish the tick, you’ll have the guts everywhere and that’s not what you want. If the tick is deep, the head might get stuck, which is nasty, but if you’ve taken the body out, it’s no longer alive and your skin will push it out on its own.”

Ms. Marshall addressed seventh-graders at Smyrna Middle School on Tuesday as part of DPH’s first annual Lyme Disease Awareness Week.
Pushing back against the conventional wisdom, Ms. Marshall pointed out to the students that putting chemicals on the tick in the hopes of extracting it would not have the desired result.

“You don’t want to put anything on the tick like fire, heat, alcohol, petroleum jelly, kerosene or anything because it will threaten and scare the tick which will actually cause it to regurgitate and throw up the contents of its stomach into your blood, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.”

For DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay, who was present at the event, educating students in the state about the dangers of Lyme disease is particularly important because of growing population of the disease-bearing ticks in Delaware.

“It’s really important that we raise awareness about Lyme disease around Delaware because of its high prevalence,” she said. “The better we all are at preventing tick bites or identifying ticks and Lyme disease early on, the better we can protect ourselves and prevent the spread. It’s something we’ve been concerned about for awhile, but we’re a bit more concerned this year because the cold wasn’t that severe over the winter which may result in a higher deer tick population and Lyme infection rate.”

Approximately 20,000 new cases of Lyme disease are reported in the United States each year, and Delaware is among the top 10 states for highest incidence rates, with DPH reporting 520 confirmed or probable cases in last year. There were 302 cases in New Castle County, 87 in Kent County and 131 in Sussex County, according to DPH data.

Smyrna Middle School student Jade Hendricks plays a game during a Lyme Disease Prevention presentation given by Delaware Public Health.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bites of blacklegged or deer ticks. It can cause a rash and often brings with it fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, muscle soreness and joint aches. Most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with two to three weeks of oral antibiotics, but a small percentage of patients with Lyme disease have symptoms that last months or even years.

Making use of the BLAST (bathe, look, apply, spray, treat) Lyme Disease Campaign coordinated through the Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Ms. Marshal gave a lecture then did several game and identification exercises with students on Tuesday. Her lessons can be tailored to any age group, she says.

“For the real little kids we do songs and dances, but for the older kids we do worksheets and games,” she added. “We can make it fun and easy to understand for any age. But, it’s really important for kids — this is an opportunity for them to learn and take it home to teach their families, but also they’re the ones playing outside the most so they have the most exposure to ticks.”

No matter the age, Ms. Marshal says the most important lessons kids leave her sessions with are: “knowing what a tick looks like and how to remove them with tweezers.”

Schools or camps interested in having DPH educators brief students on ticks and tick-bourne illness should visit dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/.

BLAST

As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Dealing with tick-borne illnesses is no different, DPH’s BLAST Lyme disease campaign launched last gives residents a few handy tips when it comes to prevention:

• Bathe or shower within two hours of coming indoors

• Look for ticks on your body and remove them

• Apply repellent to your body and clothes

• Spray your yard

• Treat your pet

Lyme disease’s alleged origin comes from a small coastal town in Connecticut called Lyme. In 1975, a woman brought an unusual cluster of pediatric arthritis cases to the attention of Yale researchers. In 1977, the Yale researchers identified and named the clusters “Lyme arthritis.” In 1979, the name was changed to “Lyme disease,” when additional symptoms such as neurological problems and severe fatigue were linked to the disease. In 1982 the cause of the disease was discovered by Dr. Willy Burgdorfer. Dr. Burgdorfer published a paper on the infectious agent of Lyme disease and earned the right to have his name placed on the Lyme disease spirochete now known as Borrelia burgdorferi.

DHSS notes that Borrelia burgdorferi is transmitted to animals and humans through the bite of an infected black-legged or deer tick. There is no evidence that Lyme disease is transmitted from person-to-person. For example, a person cannot get infected from touching a person who has Lyme disease.

Lyme disease can infect several parts of the body which can cause different symptoms at different times. Symptoms of Lyme disease can be nonspecific and may resemble other diseases. The most common early symptoms include an expanding bull’s-eye-shaped rash, fever or chills, fatigue, muscle and joint aces and headache.

For more information, visit dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/epi/lyme.html.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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