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Outdoor Workers Should Consider Lyme Disease Vaccination

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WebMD Health News

May 8, 2000 -- Because the tick population has increased after three mild winters, outdoor workers should take preventive measures against Lyme disease and ask their doctors about vaccination, according to a new warning issued by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Transmitted by ticks from infected deer, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that's prevalent in the northeast and north central U.S. Many of those bitten develop a red bull's-eye rash and flulike symptoms for up to a week, but often the cause isn't recognized. The condition can progress and become chronic, causing destruction of joints, heart problems, neurological symptoms, and other serious complications.

"Removing ticks within 36-48 hours is the best way to prevent the infection," says David Weld, the executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation. "That's why daily tick checks are so important for anyone who spends a lot of time in wooded areas." Ticks that transmit Lyme disease are very small, however, and can be hard to detect.

Weld tells WebMD that many ticks are found on the back of the neck and should be removed carefully. "Remedies like matches, petroleum jelly, and nail polish remover can cause the tick to inject bacteria," says Weld. "The best method is to lay a pair of tweezers on the skin and grab the tick by its neck, rather than its body."

Other preventive measures recommended by the CDC include wearing long-sleeved shirts, tucking long pants into socks, and spraying clothing with insect repellant containing DEET (such as OFF! and Cutter).

The CDC also recommends vaccinations for those people between the ages of 15 and 70 who are at high risk. The new vaccine, which has been available for less than a year, is 70-80% effective in preventing the infection, according to Lyme disease expert Sam Donta, MD, an infectious diseases specialist and professor of medicine at Boston University.

Donta tells WebMD that many managed care plans cover the vaccine, but some people may want to hold off. "People with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and lupus should probably wait until more is known about the vaccine," says Donta. "There are no specific problems, but as with any new treatment, issues sometimes arise after release."

For those without insurance coverage, out-of-pocket costs are manageable. "The vaccine is a series of three injections, which are administered about a month apart," says Donta. "Each shot costs between $50 and $80, but it's a bargain if it prevents chronic Lyme disease."

The terms chronic Lyme disease or post-Lyme disease syndrome refers to symptoms that persist after treatment with antibiotics. "Disabling fatigue, unrelieved aches and pains, and poor concentration have ended both marriages and employment," says Donta. "That's why it's so important to get early treatment."

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