Ticks carry Lyme disease threat to Cape Ann

Stephanie Silverstein

Katie Ryan is no different than any other 4-year-old girl on Cape Ann. She is a preschooler who plays in her backyard in West Gloucester. Earlier this summer, Katie became sick with flu-like symptoms, including a stiff neck, headache, and fever. Katie had Lyme disease.

“It was just very scary,” said Katie’s mother, Lisa Ryan. “We weren’t camping, we weren’t playing in the woods. She got this just from playing in the backyard.”

According to information from the Mass. Department of Public Health, symptoms of Lyme disease usually begin three to 30 days after being bitten by an infected deer tick. These symptoms may include a rash at the site of the bite, and flu-like symptoms.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to arthritis, neurological problems, and cardiovascular problems.

Sunny Robinson, RN, public health nurse at the Gloucester Health Department said the department’s goal is focused on prevention.

“It’s very important for parents to teach their kids about Lyme disease so that the kids understand the importance of using insecticides when they are out in the woods, and showering when they come in from the woods or from [playing] sports, and learning to check themselves out,” Robinson said.

There are several ways to avoid a bite from a Lyme disease-carrying tick. Robinson said when hiking or spending time in a grassy, woodsy area, to use a DEET based insect repellent on exposed clothing and exposed skin. Hiking through the middle of a path is beneficial, she said, because ticks are found on the underside of plants, and a tick can be transferred to a person when he or she brushes against the plant.

Robinson said the health department advises people to wear shoes, socks, and long pants tucked into the top of their socks. “It’s always better to wear light colored socks and slacks, because then it makes it easier to spot a tick on you, should one get on you,” she said.

After returning from being outdoors, even from one’s own backyard if it is near the woods, a tick check should be conducted. “Literally check yourself from head to toe,” Robinson said.

If a tick has bitten a person, Robinson said it should be removed with flat-tipped tweezers. “Slowly and steadily, pull it straight up and out,” she said. “If you have removed a tick from yourself, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor, and if you’ve got the tick, take it with you.”

Tick identification cards are available from the Gloucester Health Department. They are about the size of a credit card or license. The cards picture the actual size of deer and American dog ticks, and have information about where ticks are found and what to do if a tick has bitten a person.