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Wet Winter, Warming Wave Spurring Local Tick Swarms

Dozens of Newtown residents have turned to social media in recent days hailing the long-awaited arrival of springlike weather. But local resident, radio personality, and DJ Kirk Michaels made note of another harbinger of spring in a Facebook post April 21.

Mr Michaels noted that both his two dogs, along with his wife and he have all been pulling an inordinately large number of ticks off themselves.

“So far, we’ve removed ten ticks within the last two weeks,” he stated.

Another responder to that post states she has been pulling an average of two ticks per day off her pets

Unfortunately, the long, cold snowy winter actually has boosted the activities of developing ticks who thrived because of it, according to Newtown Health District Director Donna Culbert.

She told The Newtown Bee this week that Dr Kirby Stafford, chief scientist and state entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station tells her snow cover can moderate temperatures where the ticks live, providing a lot of humidity. And the state entomologist believes that ticks were not hampered by what was considered to be a harsh winter.

“At the Newtown Health District, and likely all the health departments in the region and in the state, Dr Stafford is the tick guru and our tick expert,” Ms Culbert said.

Ms Culbert is already sensing that tick season is arriving “with a vengeance.” So the Health District, along with its community partners, will be doing its best to get the word out about the risk of tick bites, tickborne disease, and how residents can better protect themselves.

Thanks to a recent funding approval by the Legislative Council, the town will also be bolstering its tickborne disease messaging to residents by working with More Advertising, a minority- and women-owned Massachusetts-based cause marketing firm with experience successfully mounting public health and safety programs similar to what Newtown hopes to launch this year.

More worked with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health creating a strategic outreach and education campaign on avoiding and preventing tickborne disease, “Mosquitoes and Ticks: They’re Out In Mass!”

They also designed a related community survey to gauge effectiveness for that campaign, an online series of related videos, along with a social, web, and paid media campaign, and a wallet-sized information card that won an award from the National Public Health Information Coalition.

The goal of the campaign, based on preliminary collaboration between the company and Ms Culbert, aims to change the behavior of Newtown residents around tickborne disease prevention, by first determining target audiences who will be most receptive to a prevention and awareness campaign.

Then the company will work with the Health District and other key partners developing a multimedia approach to help influence a three-year behavior change marketing plan for the town.

Ms Culbert has been working with Judy Blanchard, school district health coordinator, in the fight against ticks and tickborne illness for years and they are intrigued by this next phase of their work.

One Tick, Many Diseases

While work begins on the campaign, the pair of health professionals want to raise the tick issue now, as tick season is in full swing.

“There are other tickborne diseases, in addition to Lyme, that have become more prevalent in recent years, but are not necessarily well known to the public unless they or a loved one has been affected,” Ms Culbert said.

*Anaplasmosis is a tickborne disease caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum and, in our region, is transmitted primarily from the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) also known as the deer tick. It was previously known as human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HE) and has more recently been called human granulocytic anaplasmosis. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, and sometimes nausea/abdominal pain, cough, and confusion. Anaplasmosis can be a serious illness that can be fatal if not treated correctly even in previously healthy people.

*Babesiosis is caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells and are spread by certain ticks. In the United States, tickborne transmission is most common in parts of the Northeast and upper Midwest and usually peaks during the warm months. Babesia microti is transmitted by the bite of an infected Ixodes scapularis (black-legged or deer tick). Although many people who are infected by Babesia do not have symptoms, for those who do effective treatment is available. Symptoms include fever, chills, sweats, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, and fatigue. Treatment for babesiosis is different than other tickborne disease.

*Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted through the bite of infected black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. It is known that many patients do not develop the rash or do not detect it. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

*Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a tickborne disease caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii and is transmitted by the bite of the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabillis), the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the brown dog tick. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. A rash may also develop, but is often absent in the first few days and in some patients, never develops. RMSF can be a severe or even fatal illness if not treated promptly.

“One tick can transmit more than one disease, such an event is called co-infection,” Ms Culbert said. “All the more reason to take precautions to prevent tick bites.”

With no available effective vaccine and no consistently efficient and comprehensive method to reduce ticks, Ms Culbert says understanding the risks and avoiding tick bites are key steps to preventing tickborne disease.

For additional information on ticks and tickborne disease prevention, contact the Newtown Health District, 203-270-4291 or e-mail donna.culbert@newtown-ct.gov

BLAST Ticks In Your Yard

The Newtown Health District encourages you to learn about ticks and tick bite prevention and to remember its BLAST message. BLAST stands for five important things you and your family can do to stay safe from tick-borne diseases.

BE AWARE of the risks of tickborne disease:

B also stands for bathing soon after spending time outdoors.

L reminds everyone to look their bodies over for ticks daily and for expanding rashes.

A encourages you to avoid ticks when possible, and when you cannot, apply repellent

S stands for safeguarding your yard to reduce your possible tick exposure.

T reminds everyone about treatment. Receiving early medical treatment is the key to preventing long-term health effects. It is also important to treat your pets.

There is helpful, detailed information about the BLAST message at the Newtown Health District’s webpage on the town’s website, newtown-ct.gov

For additional information on ticks and tickborne disease prevention, contact the Newtown Health District at 203-270-4291 or donna.culbert@newtown-ct.gov.

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