State sees uptick in Lyme disease

By Isabelle Kindle

After finding a tick on his body when he was 16-years-old while walking in wooded areas of Massachusetts barefoot, Kevin Ward ’20 immediately went to his dad, a doctor, who advised Ward he should see a physician to get blood work done as a precaution. To his surprise, the tests came back positive for Lyme disease.

There is a dramatic increase of Lyme disease in Vermont due to an increase of white-tailed deer and white-footed mouse populations, animals known for carrying ticks. According to the Vermont Department of Health, in 2015, Vermont had the highest rate of reported Lyme cases in the U.S. with a 78.4% incident rate.

Lyme disease is transmitted to humans and animals through bites from infected black-legged ticks (also known as a deer tick). Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi associated with infection.

Who is at risk?

Ticks carrying Lyme are found across the state, thus any Vermonter is at risk. The key is knowing how to prevent bites, or treat them quickly if you are bitten. All students are vulnerable but when they participate in outdoor activities they need to be particularly careful.

How to avoid Lyme disease

Prevention starts with knowing how to avoid ticks, which inhabit wooded areas or fields with tall grass and brush. Checking your body (and pets) for ticks after being outside is the easiest and most common way to avoid bites. Whether you are hiking, walking your dog, or having a picnic on the grass, it is always a good idea to be prepared with insect repellent containing 30% DEET and doing a thorough tick check afterwards. Favorite places for ticks to hide on your body are back of the knees, groin, armpits, and neck, behind the ears, and along hairlines. If a tick is found, remove it quickly, with tweezers, to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme.

According to Eben Widlund, assistant director of the Adventure Sports Center, all trips led by the Sports Center go out with an information packet which includes how to remove a tick embedded in the skin, and a list of precautions to take in the event of a bite. If a student is bitten, instructors, equipped with first-aid kits and tweezers, immediately remove the tick. Upon return to campus, the student is sent to the Bergeron Wellness Center to gauge their risk for disease. The Adventure Sports Center also advocates for tick checks after each trip.

“Every day in the field I do tick checks,” Widlund said. So far this semester, there have been no reports of tick bites from students involved in the Adventure Sports Program.
The essential problem with tick bites stems from their tendency to go unrecognized for days- the case with Ward. Ignoring or delaying treatment can severely intensify and prolong the symptoms of the disease–achy joints, fever, headache, chills, muscle pain.

Ward’s doctor instructed him to lay low and take it easy for a few weeks throughout a challenging and at times painful recovery. “Biggest thing was joint pain, I couldn’t stand up straight sometimes because of knee pain” Ward said.

Along with knee pain Ward experienced muscle aches, fatigue, and nausea. He rested, stayed hydrated, and took antibiotics in hopes for a speedy recovery. The symptoms subsided after a few weeks of taking antibiotics.

Those affected by Lyme should, “Take the doctor’s instructions and and recovery process seriously,” advises Ward.