- Two Recent Cases of Rare Illness Underscore Importance -
TRENTON -- New Jersey Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D today advised state residents to take aggressive measures to prevent tick-borne diseases after two cases of rare tick paralysis were reported in southern New Jersey.
“Tick paralysis is one of a number of human medical conditions caused by ticks. Tick paralysis is very rare in this part of the country. It is characterized by weakness and malaise that develops about five days after tick attachment as the tick secretes a nerve toxin which affects muscles causing paralysis to spread across the body,’’ said Commissioner Lacy. “Although the condition can be life-threatening, when diagnosed in time, the paralysis can be completely resolved by removal of the tick.’’
The first reported case involved a five-year-old girl from Burlington County whose symptoms included slurred speech and leg muscle weakness. She was taken to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia emergency department in May, where a tick was removed from her scalp. Her symptoms resolved within 36 hours.
The second case was a seven-year-old girl from Camden County whose symptoms included hoarse voice and leg muscle weakness. She was taken to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia emergency department last week, where a tick was removed from her scalp. Within 18 hours her symptoms resolved.
“These two cases highlight the importance of regular tick checks and prompt removal of attached ticks,” said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, state epidemiologist and assistant commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. “By taking proper preventive measures, people can reduce their risk of all tick-borne diseases.”
Tick paralysis is often confused with other conditions such as Guillain-Barre syndrome or botulism. In the United States, tick paralysis occurs most commonly in the Rocky Mountain and northwestern regions of the country. Tick paralysis in humans is extremely rare in the Northeast. It is not a reportable disease in New Jersey.
In New Jersey, Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne disease, with 2,396 cases reported in 2002. Other tick-borne diseases include Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Commissioner Lacy recommends the following methods of prevention for all tick-borne illnesses:
- Avoid brush and leaf litter or tall grass when in the woods or in tick habitat.
- Wear socks, shoes and pants with the bottoms tucked into socks when spending time in tick habitat.
- Wear a shirt with a snug collar, long sleeves and cuffs and tuck the shirt into pants.
- Wear light colored clothing to make tick detection easier.
- Use insect repellents on yourself and your pets. Two types of repellents that are effective for ticks are those containing DEET for use on clothes and exposed skin, and permethrin for use on clothes only. Read label directions carefully.
- Wash away unattached ticks by showering after outings.
- Examine people (especially children) and pets after exposure to tick habitat, keeping in mind that immature ticks are as small as the size of a pinhead.
- Consult a veterinarian for recommendations about appropriate tick control products for pets.
Exposure should be handled the following way:
- Remove ticks promptly with fine-pointed tweezers placed on the mouthparts, not the head or body, as close to the skin as possible. Do not squeeze the head or body. Make certain mouthparts are removed.
- Do not put petroleum jelly or hot objects such as cigarettes or burnt matches on the tick as this may cause injury to the skin and increase the risk of transmission of the disease.
- Do not handle the tick with fingers -- use tweezers.
- Wash the area of the body where the tick was found and swab with alcohol.
- Report rash, flu-like symptoms or other unusual symptoms to your physician.
For more information on tick-borne illnesses, visit the DHSS website at www.state.nj.us/health.