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Thursday, June 13, 2002

County Health Officials Warn of Tick-Borne Diseases

Atlantic County health officials are asking area physicians to be on alert for symptoms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), a serious illness transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected tick, following the recent death of an Egg Harbor Township woman from the disease.

The 52-year-old homemaker initially complained of severe headache and fever in late March but did not seek medical care until she went to the hospital on April 2 where she died within 10 hours. This past week, results from specimens sent to the CDC by County Medical Examiner, Dr. Hydow Park, confirmed the presence of the bacteria that causes RMSF.

Since 1999, there have been 28 confirmed cases of RMSF in New Jersey, seven of which were among Atlantic County residents. This is the first New Jersey fatality from the disease in recent history. "At this point, we are trying to raise awareness among physicians, residents and visitors to Atlantic County in order to be as protective as possible against the disease, " explains County Health Officer Tracye McArdle.

RMSF is most often carried by the dog tick (sometimes called the wood tick) and possibly the Lone Star tick -- two very common ticks in this area according to Bill Reinert, Atlantic County's Director of Mosquito Control. Over the past decade, attention has focused primarily on the smaller, less common deer tick that carries Lyme disease. But with the recent fatality from RMSF, as well as two confirmed cases of Babesiosis, another tick borne disease, within the last six months, health officials warn that all types of local ticks have the potential for carrying serious illness. "What's clear is that Lyme disease is not the only tick-related disease of concern in Atlantic County," states McArdle.

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Ticks, page 2 of 2

Both inland and shore communities are vulnerable to the pervasive presence of ticks in the region: in wooded areas, coastal grasslands adjacent to beaches and grassy fields. Notes Reinert, "It is unrealistic to eliminate all tick populations, so the best protection against tick-borne disease is prevention and education."

Preventive measures are the same for all tick-borne diseases:

Wear light colored clothing to spot ticks easily.
Tuck pants into socks to prevent ticks from reaching the skin.
Apply tick repellent containing DEET. Be certain to follow label directions, especially with children.
Most importantly, perform "tick checks" every three to four hours when working or playing outside. Remove ticks promptly by grasping the tick with tweezers as close as possible and applying firm, steady backward pressure until the tick is dislodged.

Early symptoms of RMSF include sudden high fever, severe headache, muscle pain, fatigue and chills. One of the most distinctive characteristics of the disease is a rash that spreads from the ankles and wrists to the palms and soles of the feet, occurring in about 85% of the cases. McArdle urges anyone with these symptoms to seek medical care immediately. RMSF is treatable with antibiotics. Fatality occurs in about 15% of untreated cases.

The county's Division of Public Health offers educational sessions covering all tick related illnesses to community groups, on request. To schedule a presentation or for more information about Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other tick-borne diseases, call (609) 645-5933. Additional information is also available on the county's Web site at: or the Centers for Disease Control's Web site at: www/

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