The warm weather hasnâ€™t been here long - and it still leaves the area for brief spells - but health officials are already on alert, with the stateâ€™s tick population appearing to be on the rise.
The news in the past few weeks served as a quick and direct reminder to focus on preventative measures as the season progresses: Scientists at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station reported they had discovered higher-than-normal rates of Lyme disease in ticks tested so far this year. That was coupled with confirmation from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that a 5-month-old from eastern Connecticut in November had contracted the Powassan virus, one of several tick-borne diseases.
The CDCP said the male infant initially developed fever and vomiting and a facial twitch that progressed to seizures. While there was reportedly no family travel history, the parents told the agency that the child had been bitten by a tick, most likely carried into the home on the clothing of a family member.
About seven cases of the Powassan virus are reported annually in the U.S., according to the agency, with reports predominantly in the Northeast and Great Lakes region.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal was at the stateâ€™s Agricultural Experiment Station on Thursday to discuss the surge in Connecticutâ€™s tick population and efforts to monitor tick-borne viruses including Powassan, Lyme and Babesia.
The organization recently received a $3.25 million federal grant from the CDCP to join with regional universities and health organizations to establish a Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases. The award will enhance research efforts into mosquito and tick-borne diseases, according to Blumenthal.
â€śThe first confirmed case of Powassan virus in Connecticut further underscores the urgent need for research into tick-borne diseases,â€ť he said.
Meanwhile, the CDCP is alerting the public to take precautions immediately, regardless of the temperature.
Chief measures to prevent tick bites begin with avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, according to a report from the agency, which advises walkers or hikers to walk in the center of trails.
The CDCP also recommends:
- Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Always follow product instructions;
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. It remains protective through several washings.
Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
The CDCP said if people do come in contact with ticks, they should bathe or shower as soon as possible to wash and check for additional ticks.
â€śConduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas,â€ť the agency recommends. â€śParents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair. (Also,) examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs.
In addition, tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing. If clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended.
Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks effectively. If the clothes cannot be washed in hot water, tumble dry on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes. The clothes should be warm and completely dry.
For more tips, visit cdc.gov.
Christopher Fortier can be reached at 860-801-5063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.