We’re in the midst of summer in Pennsylvania, which means it’s tick season. And that means there’s an increased risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. Our state is the worst in the nation when it comes to the number of tick-borne illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Lyme disease is spread by ticks, and if untreated it can blow up to cause chronic and debilitating arthritis, fatigue, impaired motor functions and senses, an enlarged heart, and even death in rare cases,” LNP’s Heather Stauffer reported July 5.
Getting Lyme disease is an awful way to have a summer ruined, so this is a great time to brush up on knowledge about the disease and its prevention.
First, some numbers: There were 309 reported cases of Lyme disease in Lancaster County in 2018, Stauffer reported. Statewide, there were 10,208 cases. Those numbers are both down from the previous year. But the cause for concern remains great. Pennsylvania has had the most Lyme cases in the nation each year of this decade, through 2017, according to the CDC, which hasn’t yet released nationwide 2018 figures.
Plus, according to Stauffer, “the CDC also notes that studies suggest the actual number of people who get Lyme disease could be 10 times higher than the reported number of cases.”
The good news is that, when it’s caught promptly and treated with antibiotics, most people with Lyme disease make full recoveries.
It’s when it’s not diagnosed that it can be a much greater health problem.
Lititz author Susan Pogorzelski talked to LNP in 2017 about her experiences with the disease. She contracted it when she was 13 but was misdiagnosed for more than a decade. Finally, at her insistence, she was tested for Lyme disease, and that diagnosis was confirmed.
“People really need to be aware of how dangerous it is,” she told LNP. “Because Lyme disease is so misunderstood and denied, people sometimes are left in the lurch. The way it’s exploding throughout Pennsylvania — it’s totally an epidemic, and it’s being ignored. It can be prevented.”
Prevention and detection. Both are crucial when it comes to Lyme disease. So check out these tips — compiled by LNP staff from sources such as the CDC and state Department of Health — and share them with family members and friends.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine makes an important point: “Many people believe that Lyme disease, and the ticks that carry the disease, can only be found in wooded areas. However ... ticks can be found in your backyard, where you walk your dog, or the local park.”
Adult ticks, which are about the size of sesame seeds, can bite at any time but are most active from April to September. Here are some measures to protect against tick bites:
— Choose light-colored clothing that makes it easier to spot ticks.
— Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and closed-toe shoes when outdoors, especially in wooded areas or tall grasses.
— Check skin, clothing, hair and pets before going inside.
— Shower within two hours of coming back indoors.
— Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after coming indoors.
— Keep the lawn mowed and trim surrounding trees.
— Remove weeds, woodpiles and debris, which can attract ticks.
— Move swing sets and lawn furniture away from wooded and shady areas.
— Use a bug spray containing at least 20% to 30% DEET before going outdoors and reapply it as directed on the label.
If you find a tick on your skin, the key is to remove it as soon as possible.
— Use fine-tipped tweezers to remove it. Sterilize the tip of the tweezers using rubbing alcohol and grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
— Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Avoid twisting, squeezing or crushing the tick, as this can cause its head or mouth to break off and remain in your skin. If you cannot remove the rest of the tick, see a doctor.
— Dispose of the tick. Place it in a sealed bag or container; submerse the tick in alcohol; or wrap it tightly in tape. You might want to save the tick. That way, if you develop any symptoms after the bite, the tick can be tested for disease.
— Clean the bite area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
Common symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fatigue and — 70% to 80% of the time — a rash that looks like a bull’s-eye around the tick bite. These early symptoms will show up between three and 30 days after the bite, according to the state Department of Health, so be vigilant.
If Lyme disease goes untreated, later symptoms — especially past 30 days — can include rashes elsewhere on the body, joint pain and neurological problems.
This step is crucial: If you think you’ve been bitten and have Lyme disease symptoms, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Consult a doctor even if you have signs and symptoms that disappear relatively quickly — that doesn’t mean the disease is gone. Treatment for Lyme disease is more effective if begun early.