Project Focuses on Lyme Disease

When UMass-Dartmouth Nursing student Carley Lakritz undertook a health promotion project on Lyme disease as part of her community clinical requirement, she jumped at the opportunity to center her studies on Marion.

“Lyme disease has been very prevalent in the Marion area due to the highly dense forest areas that surround the town,” Lakritz said. “This is tick season, so therefore the disease prevalence will only increase during the summer months … Lyme disease is a reportable disease, which is why it has always been an interest to me.”

Lakritz, a junior, has a gained a local mentor along the way.

“I am working with Kathleen Downey, who is the town nurse of Marion,” she said. “She is my preceptor for my community clinical this semester. I am assigned to focus my attention on what I think the town of Marion needs health-wise. Nurse Downey has been helping me with my project.”

Lakritz’s objectives include spreading education, awareness and preventative recommendations on the endemic. She believes providing a common-sense refresher to the public on Lyme disease is crucial to her efforts.

Her list includes such early signs and symptoms as “bulls eye rash” (erythema migrans), occurring in 80 percent of cases, a red ring-like or expanding rash from the center of a tick bite outward, which is not always circular; fever, muscle aches, headaches, swollen lymph glands, fatigue, mild neck stiffness, facial paralysis, chills and joint pain.

Meanwhile, “Late symptoms may not become apparent until weeks or years after initial infection,” Lakritz explained, and can include arthritis (commonly large joints such as knees and shoulders); joint swelling and pain that may be recurrent; severe fatigue and malaise; nerve pain, including numbness and tingling, peripheral weakness and Bell’s Palsy; as well as meningitis and cardiac problems.

Lakritz advised residents to keep their grass and plants around stone walls cut short, remove leaf litter and brush, prune low-lying bushes to let in more sunshine, and keep woodpiles and bird feeders off of the ground and away from the home.

She also suggested using a three-foot-wide woodchip, mulch or gravel barrier where the lawn meets the woods, reminding children to not cross the barrier. In addition, she cautioned against plants that attract deer, and to utilize deer fencing and pest control.

When it comes to personal prevention, Lakritz stressed vigilance in checking oneself for ticks daily, especially between the toes, the backs of knees, groin, armpits, neck, along the hairline, and behind the ears; checking children and pets; sticking to main pathways and trails when hiking; wearing long-sleeved, light-colored shirts and pants tucked into socks; and using repellents containing DEET 30 percent, which is considered safe for children and adults.

“I would like the public to know the importance of identifying and confirming the presence of Lyme disease,” said Lakritz, a Longmeadow native hoping to work as a nurse in on a neurology unit at Hartford Hospital upon graduating from UMass-Dartmouth. “Early detection can help prevent chronic complications of Lyme disease. Going to your doctor as soon as you recognize the symptoms is very important.”

By Shawn Badgley

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