Preoccupied with coronavirus prevention, Twin County residents might be overlooking a more familiar threat: tick-borne Lyme disease.
That is the message from local health officials, who are urging the public to be vigilant about detecting the symptoms of Lyme disease, which can be easily mistaken for COVID-19.
“There are parallels between Lyme and the COVID virus symptoms, so there are some people who come down with Lyme and end up trying to get tested for COVID,” Columbia County Public Health Director Jack Mabb said.
Getting tested for COVID-19 is a good strategy for ruling out coronavirus as a source of symptoms, Mabb said, but the county health director also advocated Lyme awareness.
The typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash, with symptoms appearing three to 30 days after a tick bite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lyme disease often manifests with flu-like symptoms, but not everyone has the same reaction, which is why it is important to seek medical care, said Donna Peterson, master gardener coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties.
While COVID-19 symptoms differ widely, the most common indications of a coronavirus infection are fever, muscle or body aches, headache, shortness of breath or nausea and vomiting, with symptoms appearing two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the CDC.
Flu-like symptoms can result from multiple causes and may not be the result of COVID-19, although COVID-19 is at the top of everyone’s mind at the moment, officials said.
“Get a COVID test first, because that is probably the worst-case scenario, but if there are still symptoms, a person should become proactive and ask, ‘Can I get tested for Lyme?’” Peterson said.
The current emphasis on COVID-19 means Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses, usually familiar summer concerns, are not getting top billing this year.
“People are so tied up” with COVID-19 precautions that they may not be paying attention to the threat posed by Lyme, Mabb said.
Peterson urged vigilance.
Columbia, Greene and surrounding counties are epicenters for ticks and tick-borne diseases, meaning residents should take special precautions to avoid tick bites, Peterson said.
Lyme disease, transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks, can infect the joints, heart and nervous system if left untreated, according to the CDC.
As with the COVID-19 safety precautions, the public should not be afraid to go outside and enjoy nature if they take the proper steps to avoid Lyme, Peterson said.
Peterson, who teaches Lyme disease prevention in her role at Cornell Cooperative Extension, recommends wearing light-colored clothing to make ticks more easily visible and pulling socks up around pant legs.
“You may look dorky, but it works to be tick-safe,” she said.
Peterson also recommends using a sticky lint roller to remove ticks from clothing and pets immediately upon returning from the outdoors and before entering the house. Putting clothing in the dryer at high heat can also kill any remaining ticks hidden on clothing, she said.
Permethrin, an anti-parasite spray, is widely available and can be applied to clothing to prevent ticks from attaching. Organic alternatives such as lavender, lemon or eucalyptus oils work as well, but are less effective, Peterson said.
Ticks prefer more humid, moist habitats and commonly lurk in the woods and in areas with high grasses, places where people and their pets are likely to venture when they grow tired of coronavirus-induced isolation.
Peterson sees no reason the public should be afraid to venture out, as long as proper care is taken.
“Check each other, check children, check animals, take a shower. You can still go out and enjoy Mother Nature,” she said.
More information about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses can be found on the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Columbia and Greene Counties website at www.ccecolumbiagreene.org/gardening/avoiding-lyme-disease.
Peterson urged anyone with questions or concerns to reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-828-3346 ext. 106.