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As Lyme numbers rise, Vt. warns about ticks

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Department of Health is advising residents who spend time outdoors to do daily tick checks this summer, a year after the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the state peaked.

In 2013, the state confirmed 674 cases of the disease, a big increase over 2012, with 386 cases, and 2011, with 476 cases.

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This year, Vermont lawmakers passed a bill that they hope will help with treating the symptoms.

The new law makes doctors and other health professionals immune from professional conduct charges if they prescribe a course of long-term antibiotics to treat Lyme disease, a treatment widely considered experimental. Vermont joined Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and California in protecting doctors if they prescribe antibiotics for more than a month to people with the disease.

Lyme disease — spread by the bite of infected deer ticks — can be prevented if the tick is removed within about 36 hours, officials said. The challenge is finding them: The immature ticks out this time of year are about the size of a poppy seed. They become bigger once they are engorged and tend to be found on a person’s leg but can be found anywhere on the body.

‘‘This time of year you have to be especially vigilant because this is when the small nymphs are most active,’’ said Erica Berl, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the Department of Health. ‘‘Unless you’re really looking carefully for them, they can go undetected.’’

The Health Department recommends:

Lyme disease can be prevented if the infected tick is removed within about 36 hours, officials said.

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 avoiding tall grass, areas with a lot of brush and leaf litter, and forest edges

  using insect repellant with up to 30 percent DEET and treating clothes with permethrin, a chemical used as an insecticide

 wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and tucking pants into socks

 conducting daily tick checks on yourself, children and pets

If ticks are found, the Health Department advises they should be removed promptly. Showering within two hours of being outdoors also helps to remove ticks.

While most cases of Lyme disease in Vermont last year were contracted in the four southern counties, residents in all counties have been diagnosed with the disease.

Lyme disease symptoms are a red rash at the site of the bite as well as fatigue, headache, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle and joint pain.

The disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. If left untreated, the heart and nervous system can be affected.

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