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Ticktock: Lyme disease on the rise in U.S. as 300,000 stricken annually

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Just as summertime signals the beginning of rising temps and more time spent outdoors, so, too, is it synonymous with ticks and the threat of Lyme disease.

In a study conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) they discovered that Lyme disease is about 10 times more prevalent than previously reported, claiming that as many as 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease annually, as opposed to the previously reported count of 20,000 to 30,000 reported cases.

As a result, public health officials in some states are asking residents to catch any ticks they encounter and mail them to a specified lab for testing so they can test the bugs for any of several diseases ticks carry, including Lyme disease.

This spring, Cape Cod residents have been doing exactly that as, working with the University of Massachusetts Amherst laboratory, public health officials there have been urging local residents to mail them any ticks they encounter.

The UMass lab is using an $111,300 state grant to perform the testing and is specifically looking for the presence of the disease in 100 ticks from each of 32 Massachusetts towns, including Nantucket and the 15 towns in Barnstable County.

"The word is out and people are participating," explained Larry Dapsis, entomologist with the Cape Cod Extension Service. "The state is going to find out what the exposure picture in reality looks like."

The CDC offers up some helpful tips on tick removal should you find a tick attached to your skin in the weeks and months ahead. While there are several tick-removal devices on the market, the CDC explains that a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.

* Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible;
* Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal;
* After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

The CDC also warns against the many folklore remedies that are out there such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. The CDC adds that your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible, and not to wait for it to detach.

If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.

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