The Division of Public Health is ramping up its BLAST Lyme Disease awareness campaign and its outreach efforts as the frequency of tick bites and the occurrence of Lyme disease increase as the weather warms up.

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. with about 20,000 new cases reported each year. Delaware is among the top-10 states in the U.S. with the highest incidence rates. In 2018, DPH reported 520 confirmed and probable cases in the state.

This year, efforts are aimed at educating both the general public and medical providers about tick bite prevention and how to best diagnose and treat Lyme disease. Additionally, Senate Concurrent Resolution 43, sponsored by State Sen. Ernesto B. Lopez and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, recognizing May 19-25 as Lyme Disease Awareness Week in Delaware, passed both chambers May 16.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bites of black-legged or deer ticks. Some, but not all, Lyme disease infections cause a red “bullseye” rash. Rashes can occur anywhere on the body and vary in size and shape. The rash can be warm to the touch and is usually not painful or itchy. Other symptoms are fever and/or chills, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and headaches.

This week DPH epidemiologists are conducting interactive educational presentations at Delaware elementary and middle schools in order to increase awareness of tick-borne diseases, how to prevent tick bites and how to safely remove ticks. Their efforts are an ongoing part of the BLAST campaign, which offers the presentations year-round to camps, schools and organizations. Any group or organization can request a presentation by calling 888-295-5156. BLAST is an acronym for remembering five simple steps to take to protect family and pets from Lyme disease: bathe or shower within two hours of coming indoors; look for ticks on the body and remove them; apply repellent to body and clothes; spray yard; and treat pets.

Additionally, DPH is making polyvinyl tick bite prevention trail signs available to parks and municipalities statewide while supplies last. DPH will present nine of them to the Milton at 11:30 a.m. May 22 in Milton Memorial Park for posting at the entrances to the town’s parks and walking trails. To reserve signs, call DPH at 744-4930. Also, new this year is a series of short videos on tick bite prevention and removal (for humans and their pets) being added to DPH’s social media channels and a short online survey for state employees to benchmark their awareness and knowledge of Lyme disease, and preventive and tick removal measures.

Most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with two to three weeks of antibiotics taken by mouth. However, a small percentage of patients with Lyme disease have symptoms like muscle and joint pains, arthritis, cognitive defects, sleep disturbance and fatigue that last months or years after treatment with antibiotics and can be challenging for the patient to live with. Also, Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, as not all patients with Lyme disease will develop the characteristic bullseye rash, and tick exposures may often go undetected. Untreated infections can lead to severe joint pain and swelling (particularly the knees), loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face (called “Bell’s palsy”), dizziness, severe headaches and neck stiffness and neurological problems.

To assist medical providers in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, DPH has created educational flyers that will be distributed through state health care association partners. Also, since early recognition of Lyme disease decreases associated morbidity and promotes good health outcomes, DPH is providing links to two webinars that offer CEUs/CMEs on its website. A webinar produced by DPH and the Medical Society of Delaware describes the epidemiology (with particular emphasis on Delaware), early recognition and prevention of Lyme disease. It is suitable for physicians, physician assistants and all levels of nurses and can be found at bit.ly/2HAZrIQ through June 30. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers a free online course that teaches the proper identification and treatment of tick-borne diseases. Health care providers can visit bit.ly/2HDvLuG to learn more about the course and the credit hours available.

Other ongoing components of the BLAST Lyme Disease campaign includes print, radio, Facebook and digital ads in English and Spanish, which began running in late April. DPH’s Lyme webpage at lyme.de/gov features detailed tick removal instructions and a printable poster of common symptoms and a “Kids Korner” filled with engaging activities.