NMC Commentary

Is This a Particularly Bad Tick Season?

Yes, the Vermont Department of Health’s monitoring of reports of individuals coming to Urgent Care Clinics and Emergency Departments for tick encounters shows that 2017 is reaching record levels this Spring. May and June are typically the months with the most tick bites (followed by April, October, and November), so it is important to be aware of the health problems caused by ticks, how to avoid being bitten by a tick, and what to do if you are bitten.  Recently, Dr. Laura Bellstrom of Northwestern Pediatrics appeared on NMC’s Health Beat show which runs on Northwest Cable Access Television (and can be accessed via the “For Our Community” section of the NMC website).  In addition, NMC recently hosted experts from the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) who did an in-person presentation on Lyme Disease and ticks to a capacity crowd here in our community. Given how wonderful it is to be active outside at this time of year, refreshing ourselves on prevention and treatment is timely!

VDH has a great booklet entitled “Be Tick Smart” that is available (along with other great resources on Lyme disease) at: http://www.healthvermont.gov/immunizations-infectious-disease/mosquito-tick-zoonotic-diseases/prevent-tick-bites. These materials remind us that Lyme disease is spread in the eastern United States through the bite of deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks) and may affect the skin, heart, nerves, or joints.  Symptoms, which can appear between three and thirty days following infection, can be vary widely and include “a fever, headache, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue or a rash soon after a tick bite.” If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of Lyme disease, or if you encounter a tick and want medical assistance with it, please call your Primary Care office. You can also get prompt medical assistance with ticks through Northwestern Urgent Care, open 7 days a week in Cobblestone Health Commons on NMC’s Campus in St. Albans and 6 days a week on Route 7 in Georgia. Both of those offices can be reached by calling (802) 524-8911 and you can even see their wait times online at www.northwesternmedicalcenter.org. Timely attention is important, so don’t let days lapse if you need help with at tick bite.

The VDH materials share great tips on keeping ticks off your skin and preventing tick bites: It is important to understand where you might encounter ticks: “Ticks prefer wooded and bushy areas with high grass, brush and leaf litter. If you enter an area where ticks are likely to live, try to avoid direct contact with the surrounding vegetation. For instance, if you are hiking stay in the center of the trail where the grass is low and the underbrush is cut back.” To avoid a tick being able to latch onto your skin, “cover up your skin by wearing pants, long sleeves, and long socks. Tucking your pant legs into your socks and tucking your shirt into your pants can help keep ticks on off of your skin. Apply an insect repellent that contains 20-30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing.”  You can also “apply permethrin to your clothes” as it kills ticks on contact and remains protective through several washings. Do not use permethrin on skin.”

It is important to check for ticks after you have been in areas where exposure is possible.  VDH recommends that you “check your body and your child’s body after being outdoors. Use a mirror to look at all parts of your body (armpits, behind ears, groin, etc.) and remove any ticks you find.” Their website provides a good visual direction and a video for how to properly use tweezers to remove a tick and warns not to use “petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or other products to remove a tick. These methods are not effective.”

Prevention is indeed the best medicine, so as you head outside for yard work or recreation, bear in mind the tips of how to avoid ticks and learn how to remove them (or contact your healthcare professional).  By being “Tick Smart” we can safely enjoy all that nature has to offer here in the beauty of Vermont. Now join me in getting outside and enjoying the sunshine!


— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer