Lyme disease seen in record numbers; How to protect against ticks

COVID-19 isn’t the only disease Erie County residents have seen in record numbers.

The Erie County Health Department reported 264 cases of Lyme disease in 2021. This is an 80% increase from each of the previous two years, when 147 cases were reported, and the the county’s highest annual total since tick-borne disease was first reported in the county in the 1980s.

Eighty-eight cases were reported in July alone, by far the highest monthly total in the county.

“I suspect the main reason is more people spending more time outdoors,” said Howard Nadworny, MD, infectious disease specialist at Saint Vincent Hospital and county health department adviser. “Last year we also saw more people with anaplasmosis, another tick-borne infection. This has been reported to be increasing in western New York (state) as well, so it may also be that there are more infected ticks in the county than there were in the past.”

Another reason for the increase could be that people, including doctors, are now more aware of Lyme disease. Patients can seek treatment more often and doctors are testing it, said Charlotte Berringer, RN, director of community health services for the Erie County Health Department.

Continued:Prepare to Avoid Ticks Outdoors in Pennsylvania, Including Those With Deer Tick Virus

Lyme disease is a health problem because, if left untreated, it can cause joint pain, neurological problems and, in rare cases, heart problems, hepatitis and death. In its early stages, Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics.

The infected ticks were originally found in Erie County nearly 40 years ago at Près Isle State Park, but have since migrated to wooded and grassy areas in northwestern Pennsylvania. They have even been discovered in mowed lawns and parks, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“Now is the time people should be aware of ticks when hiking or walking in the woods,” said Breanna Adams, director of environmental health services for the county health department. “The ticks ‘winter’ here, so as soon as it’s 40 degrees or more they come out and look for food.”

How to protect yourself from ticks?

How can I protect myself from Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses? Here are things you should know:

Not all cases of Lyme disease include a bulls-eye rash. The circular rash at the site of a tick bite is the most well-known symptom of Lyme disease.

But only 70-80% of people diagnosed with Lyme disease develop these rashes. So watch for other symptoms, including fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.

Without treatment, these symptoms will go away, but the person will still be infected and may suffer more serious, long-term health problems. Contact your primary health care provider if you’ve been bitten by a tick, Adams said.

Erie County Health Department employee Rob Nick walks down the sidewalk trail at Près Isle State Park with a flannel cloth in this May 2021 file photo. Nick drags the cloth to catch ticks.

Don’t stop hiking. Just wear appropriate clothing. When walking through tick-infested areas, wear light-colored long pants that you tuck into your socks to prevent ticks from creeping up your legs.

Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck them into your pants. Do not wear open-toed shoes or sandals.

Use insect repellents containing DEET or permethrin. DEET can be applied to skin or clothing, while premethrin should only be applied to clothing.

Check for ticks after hiking or any activity in tick-infested areas. Inspect yourself before getting into your car. Some experienced hikers use a lint roller to remove ticks that may be on their clothing.

When you get home, wash your clothes in hot water and dry them on high heat. Take a shower and inspect warm, dark areas of your body, such as your armpits, where ticks tend to feed.

An adult female deer tick, left, and a nymph, specimens provided by the Erie County Department of Health, are shown next to an enclosure for relative size May 27 at the State Park in Almost Isle in Millcreek Township.

What if you find a tick on you?

Remove ticks as soon as you find them. Ticks do not feed immediately on contact, unlike mosquitoes.

It takes 24 hours or more for a tick to find a suitable place on your body to feed and begin to latch on. If you can easily remove the tick from your skin and it’s not engorged with blood, it hasn’t started feeding.

Ticks transmit Lyme disease and other illnesses, including deer tick virus, when they feed. While ticks with DTV have been found in Pennsylvania, no human cases have yet been reported, Adams said.

Do not use petroleum jelly, nail polish or matches to remove ticks. They just don’t work.

Instead, use a pair of needle-nose pliers or a special tick-removal tool to remove the entire tick, Adams said. Place the tweezers or device parallel to your skin and pull upwards on the tick with steady, even pressure. Do not squeeze the body.

You can send your tick for identification or testing. If you want a tick identified and you are a county resident, simply place it in a plastic bag and bring it to the County Health Department, 606 W. Second St., during regular business hours. opening hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Continued:Erie County has a new tick in town, but deer ticks remain the biggest health concern

Pennsylvania residents who want a tick tested for Lyme disease and other common viruses can send them to the University of East Stroudsburg, which has a testing lab.

The address is Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania, 562 Independence Road, Suite 114, East Stroudsburg, PA, 18301. For more information, visit ticklab.org.

Contact David Bruce at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ETNBruce.