Most people welcome the arrival of summer''s warm temperatures and the opportunity to spend more time outdoors. So do certain disease-carrying ticks, causing OSHA to issue a warning to outdoor workers on exposure to Lyme disease.
The danger is greatest in late spring and early summer, because young ticks are especially abundant at this time and seek "hosts." When an infected tick attaches itself to the human body, it can transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease within 36 to 48 hours.
Lyme disease is often difficult to diagnose. Left untreated, it can lead to symptoms that are severe, chronic and disabling. It afflicted more than 16,000 people in 1998, according to OSHA.
"There needs to be immediate preparation for the upcoming Lyme disease season," said David Weld, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation in Somers, N.Y. "Outdoor workers are at particularly high risk."
The problem has been growing worse in recent years, thanks to a spate of mild winters and rising deer populations, the pests'' favorite hosts.
According to the OSHA warning, outdoor occupations facing the greatest risk of tick exposure include forestry, construction, oil field and utility line work. One rule of thumb is to exercise extreme caution whenever in a habitat frequented by deer.
Areas of high or moderate risk in the United States include the Northeast, some parts of the Great Lakes region and a portion of northern California. OSHA recommends that state and local health department authorities be consulted to determine risk in any given locale, as the tick infestation can vary even within a county and change from year to year.
An early sign of Lyme disease may be a bull''s-eye rash, but 20 percent to 40 percent of people with the disease never get the rash. Other symptoms are nonspecific and resemble the flu: fever, neck stiffness, fatigue, headaches, joint or muscle aches.
Diagnosis can be difficult, especially because there is no definitive blood test for Lyme disease. It is a good idea for those working in high-risk areas to examine their skin for the telltale rash at the end of the day.
Correct and early diagnosis is essential. Lyme disease usually can be treated successfully with antibiotics when detected early. If left untreated, it can result in symptoms that are incurable, including arthritis, heart disease, brain and nerve disorders.
According to the OSHA bulletin, workers also can help prevent Lyme disease by wearing clothes that prevent ticks from biting, using insect repellent and consulting a physician about a protective vaccine.
The hazard bulletin and a fact sheet on Lyme disease may be found on OSHA''s Web site, www.osha.gov. More detailed information is available at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention''s Web site, www.cdc.gov. The American Lyme Disease Foundation''s Web address is www.aldf.com.
by James L. Nash