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Lyme Disease Cases Down From Last Year, but Up In General

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Ticks are usually located close to the ground, so wearing high rubber boots may provide additional protection. The CDC recommends applying insect repellents containing DEET to exposed skin, and permethrin (which kills ticks on contact) to clothes.

There are ways to reduce the number of ticks in residential areas such as removing leaf litter, removing brush-and-wood piles around houses and at the edges of yards, and clearing trees and brush to admit more sunlight and reduce the amount of suitable habitat for deer, rodents, and ticks.

"Since reporting started in 1980, the numbers have gone up and down and up and down," points out Karen Forschner, chair of the board of directors of the Lyme Disease Foundation, based in Hartford, Conn.

People should not derive a false sense of security from the new data, she says. "The numbers for 2000 may be down again because of droughts in many states during that year," she says. "Ticks don't survive in dryness. They need moist, humid weather."

States such as Texas, Maryland, Nebraska, and West Virginia, which typically have small numbers of Lyme disease cases, are also showing increases, she says.

"People shouldn't interpret Lyme disease case-count numbers as indicating whether or not ticks in their area will spread disease," she says. "Other ticks spread other diseases in others states."

Her advice is similar to Marshall's. "Dress properly in the summer in tick-infested areas, which means wearing light clothing, shirt tucked into pants and pants tucked into socks, but when it gets really hot in the Northeast, that's not practical advice," she notes.

Forschner lets her daughter play outside in shorts and a T-shirt, but she is careful to do daily tick checks

If ticks are found, they must be removed properly with fine-point tweezers, she explains. "Place the tweezers next to the skin and around the mouth part of the tick and pull back," she says. Don't squeeze their bodies.

If the ticks are removed as soon as possible after they're found, and haven't been on the skin too long, then a person might not be infected. Remember, Marshall says, "a tick has to be attached for two days to cause the disease."

Once again, vigilance is key. "Rates are down very little and that means that the risk still remains largely what it has been in the past," says Aravinda M. de Silva, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

De Silva and colleagues recently published research on how the bacteria that causes Lyme disease moves from a tick to an animal host. What they found was there was great variability in the bacteria -- which will make it tough to develop a vaccine.

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