Prevent the Summer Afflictions of Lyme Disease and Acute Sunburn

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

Summer arrived last week and with it a number of seasonal afflictions that can be mitigated by awareness and prevention. I have asked two members of the WVFC Medical Advisory Board for their advice to help us have a safer summer. Dr. Jason Kendler provides information on tick-borne illnesses. Dr. Anetta Reszko discusses what causes acute sunburn, how to avoid it and the consequences of sunburn. Here are the suggestions from our medical experts about how to have a happy and safe summer.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen is a collaborative physician who writes a weekly “Medical Monday” column for Women’s Voices for Change. (Search our archives for her posts, calling on the expertise of medical specialists, on topics from angiography to vulvar melanoma.)


Lyme Disease

By Jason Kendler, M.D.

In addition to good weather, beach days and fun, summer, unfortunately, also brings a hazard into some of our lives in the form of ticks. Blacklegged ticks transmit a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, that causes Lyme disease. In addition to the transmission of this bacterium, these tick bites can transmit Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis and an even more alarming tick borne pathogen, the Powassan virus.

For some reason, ticks flock to mice. The affected mice are covered in ticks. Other animals groom these ticks off and kill them. But mice don’t. They let the ticks attach and feed on their face and ears. There are reports of mice with 50-100 ticks on their face and ears. Some ticks harbor two, three or even four pathogens at once.

Prevention is key. What can you do?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has several suggestions:

1. Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
2. Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
3. Wear closed-toe shoes and socks. Tuck your long pants into the socks. Wear long sleeved shirts or blouses.
4. Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.
5. Treat dogs for ticks. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and to some tick borne diseases. They may also bring ticks into your home. Tick collars, sprays, shampoos, or monthly “top spot” medications help protect against ticks.
6. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.
7. Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.
8. Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.

Since a tick needs to be attached for at least 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease in most cases, removing a tick within 24 hours of attachment may prevent infection. If you find a tick attached to your skin, you should contact your doctor. Prompt tick removal and sometimes a timely dose of an antibiotic can prevent some of the illnesses that are mentioned above.

You should certainly call your doctor if you develop any symptoms of tick-borne illness, which may include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, body aches, joint pains, swollen glands, or rash. Because ticks are small, their bite is painless, and because they fall off after feeding, you may not always know that you have been bitten by a tick. Fortunately, infection transmitted by ticks is treatable in most instances. However, there is a reported increase in the transmission of the Powassan virus by these ticks and there is no effective treatment.

Remember, if you spend time in the country where blacklegged ticks are known to be prevalent, do your best to avoid tick bites, make sure you do a tick search every night, and contact your doctor if you find a tick or develop any symptoms suggestive of tick-borne illness.

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