By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Tick season is in full swing, and the Montgomery County Health Department is advising residents to take necessary precautions to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease or other potentially fatal illnesses passed through a tick bite.
A new virus, called the Powassan Virus, has recently surfaced, and is affecting people faster than Lyme disease, but department Director Kim Conboy said the virus has not yet reached the area.
"I have not heard of any such cases in or outside of Montgomery County so far this year," Conboy said.
The Powassan virus is related to West Nile, St. Louis encephalitis, and Tick-borne encephalitis viruses, according to the Center for Disease Control website.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurological problems may also occur.
There is no specific treatment, but people with severe Powassan virus illnesses often need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support, intravenous fluids, or medications to reduce swelling in the brain, according to the website.
Lyme disease is a more common tick-related illness, with the state reporting more than 5,000 cases in 2012, according to the latest data compiled on the state Department of Health website.
Montgomery and Fulton counties were among the lower numbers, with 20 reported cases for the former and 9 cases for the latter. Among those with higher incidents were Albany with 220 cases, and Rensselaer, which had 506 cases.
"Lyme disease is serious and can affect people of any age," Conboy said. "People who spend time in grassy and wooded environments are at an increased risk of exposure."
Left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to cardiac and nervous system problems. Thinking abilities such as memory and concentration may be affected. Furthermore, arthritis can develop, causing pain and swelling in the joints. Nerve damage and paralysis of the muscles in the face may also occur, she said.
Deer ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level, clinging to tall grass, brush and shrubs, usually no more than 18-24 inches off the ground, Conboy said. They also live in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woods and around old stone walls.
Deer ticks cannot jump or fly, and do not drop onto passing people or animals. They get on humans and animals only by direct contact. Once a tick gets on the skin, it generally climbs upward until it reaches a protected area.
"The chances of being bitten by a deer tick are greater during times of the year when ticks are most active," Conboy said.
Young deer ticks, called nymphs, are active from mid-May to mid-August and are about the size of poppy seeds. Adult ticks, which are approximately the size of sesame seeds, are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Both nymphs and adults can transmit Lyme disease. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing. Infected deer ticks can be found throughout the state.