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Understanding Lyme disease and outdoor workers at risk

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 7,500 possible and 22,500 confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2010. Workers in Louisiana could be at risk of infection if they work outdoors, so they might want to learn more about the disease.

Lyme disease is generally spread to humans through bites from black-legged and western black-legged ticks that are infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, which lives in small animals such as mice and squirrels. Symptoms of the disease include muscle and joint pain, chills, fatigue, fever, headache and swollen lymph nodes. At the site of the bite, outdoor workers are likely to see a circular rash that expands and might resemble a bull's-eye.

Physicians diagnose Lyme disease in workers based on their symptoms and the possibility that they were exposed to contaminated ticks. In most cases, it is treatable with antibiotics, particularly if treatment begins early. Some workers, however, could experience arthritis, fatigue, or joint and muscle pain even after treatment.

Although the risk of Lyme infection is highest in north-central and northeastern states, there is a possibility of infection in wooded areas, high grass, leaf litter and bushes in other states. Some outdoor occupations that are at risk include construction, farming, forestry, landscaping, land surveying and wildlife management. Oil field, railroad and utility line workers may also be at risk.

To avoid tick bites, the CDC recommends that workers wear light-colored, long pants and shirts that are tucked into their socks or boots as well wear hats. They could spray insect repellents with 20 to 30 percent DEET on their clothes or skin. However, using insecticides on clothing, not skin, offers better protection.

Employers of occupationally ill or injured workers or their insurers might approve workers' compensation benefits if the workers are infected with Lyme disease. The benefits could help them pay for medical treatment and might replace some of their income if their symptoms prevent them from working for a period of time. An attorney can be of assistance when the worker is filing the required claim.

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