seemingly unaffected by Lyme disease, but domestic animals are susceptible.
Cats and dogs can get it, though cats apparently are not made ill by the
disease as often as dogs, who can run high fevers and become arthritic when
infected. If diagnosed properly and treated with antibiotics, an infected
animal will recover quickly. In Westchester County the health department has
asked veterinarians to report all cases of Lyme disease because, Curran
explains, "dogs are sort of harbingers, and where the dogs are getting Lyme
disease, we know that soon people will be getting Lyme disease."
Larger animals are
also affected. In a recent study of Lyme disease in horses, Dr. Daniel Cohen of
the University of Pennsylvania found that 60% of the animals tested on farms in
New Jersey had antibodies for the disease and that 14% to 19% of the foal crop
was affected in 1985 and 1986. The stricken foals had swollen limbs and
People can be
bitten by an infected tick at any time of the year, but June and July are the
months in which to be particularly vigilant because that is when the nymphs are
the most active. "It's the nymphs that one has to be careful of, because
they're very, very small," Fish says. "The deer tick is one of the few
ticks in this part of the country that bites people while in its immature
stage. Most people are used to seeing the relatively big adult ticks. The big
ticks carry the Lyme disease spirochete, but most people generally remove them
in time. Because the immature stage is so small, half the people who have Lyme
disease never see the nymphs or even recall having been bitten."
On average, one
third of all the nymphal and adult ticks that Fish has examined in Westchester
are infected with the spirochete. However, in some places, such as Chappaqua,
N.Y., parts of coastal Connecticut, eastern Long Island and such vacation spots
as Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, Block Island,
Shelter Island and Fire Island, the tick infection rate is even higher.
studies indicate that each year 16,500 people in Westchester County are bitten
by infected ticks, but not all of them will develop Lyme disease; for instance,
in 1987 only those 545 cases were reported in the county. Some people remove
the ticks in time (it is thought that it takes the nymph 24 hours and the adult
48 hours to transmit the disease) and some people may not be susceptible; still
others may be transients who contract the disease and then return home to
Kalamazoo or Frankfurt or wherever, without their cases ever being reported,
much less diagnosed.
greatest obstacle to curbing the disease may be the baffling population
explosion among ticks. "The tick population in Westchester has exploded in
the past few years," Fish says. "In 1982 this tick was rare; it was
very hard to find. But over the last three years, the numbers on our study
plots have increased measurably. Last year we averaged 1.5 ticks every square
meter. Something has changed in the environment in this part of the country,
and we don't know what it is. There's never been a major tick-borne disease
like this on this continent before." (The number of cases of Rocky Mountain
spotted fever, which is also transmitted by ticks, has remained fairly stable
for the last 50 years.)
government has yet to make Lyme disease a major priority. It's up to people to
look after themselves whenever they go outside, or even when Spot and Fluffy
come back into the house. Precautions include:
light-colored shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt so that the
dark ticks stand out more readily.
•Tuck in your
shirt, and pull your socks up over the pant cuffs. Ticks most commonly affix
themselves to the feet, ankles and legs.
•Apply an insect
repellent to your shoes, socks and pant cuffs. A repellent with deet is
considered the most effective against ticks.