Lyme Disease Risk Confirmed For Dogs (& People) in Vermont

For immediate release: June 3, 2002

Contact: Patsy Tassler, PhD

Dr. Bob Johnson
Public Health Veterinarian

Burlington, VT—The Vermont Department of Health today released the results of a study that confirms Lyme disease as a risk for dogs in Vermont.

The study was conducted through nine veterinary practices in Bennington, Rutland, Windham and Windsor counties. During 2000-2001, 92 dogs were tested. Nine of those dogs (9.7 percent) were found to have Lyme disease.

None of the dogs in the study had ever been more than 10 miles beyond the state’s borders, making it highly likely that they contracted the disease instate.

“If dogs are getting Lyme disease in Vermont, it follows that people can get it here too,” said Patsy Tassler, epidemiologist at the Vermont Department of Health.

Lyme disease is not transmitted from dogs to humans. It is caused by the bite of a deer tick infected with the Lyme Disease bacteria. Deer ticks are common in Vermont and found in wooded, brushy or overgrown grassy areas.

While the risk of contracting Lyme disease in Vermont is not high, it is present. From 1999 through 2001, 84 cases of human Lyme disease were reported; of those, 23 were likely to have been exposed [through tick bites] instate.

All cases of Lyme disease are not reported to the Health Department, Tassler said. It is likely that many more cases occur in Vermont.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 16,000 human cases of Lyme disease each year in the United States. More than 90 percent of those are from Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.

A person who is infected will, within days of a tick bite, get a round or oval rash that may have a "bull's-eye" appearance. The rash may be accompanied by symptoms such as general tiredness, fever, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches, or joint pain. If untreated, a person may develop severe arthritis or neurologic problems.

Precautions people can take to reduce the chance of a tick bite, and thereby decrease the risk of getting Lyme disease, include minimizing skin exposure, wearing light colored clothing, wearing long sleeves and pants, tucking pants into socks, using insect repellant containing DEET, and checking for ticks following outdoor activities.

Removing the tick promptly decreases the chance of getting Lyme disease. The best way to remove the tick is with a tweezers. Place the tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick straight off. Do not try to remove the tick with your fingers, with a lighted cigarette, matches, alcohol or Vaseline.

There are also steps people can take to protect their pets.

“It’s very important to check your pets for ticks whenever they have been outdoors and remove any ticks you find,” said Dr. Bob Johnson, public health veterinarian at the Vermont Department of Health.

Although more often diagnosed in dogs, it is also possible for cats, horses, goats and cattle to get Lyme disease. Common symptoms include sudden severe pain or lameness, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. Some animals may not show any noticeable symptoms.