Lyme disease cases on the rise in Pennsylvania

Liz Evans Scolforo

The number of cases of Lyme disease reported across Pennsylvania has risen sharply over the past few years in northern counties, and the whole state also saw increased numbers of infections in 2014. In York County, the numbers have been high for years.

There were 304 new cases of the tick-borne disease reported in York County in 2014, according to the most recent data provided by the state Department of Health.

Harry Smith of Mount Joy applies insect repellent with Deet before mountain biking at Rocky Ridge County Park, Monday, May 15, 2017. Smith said he has been lucky avoiding ticks so far. John A. Pavoncello photo

That's the third-highest number of reported Lyme disease infections for 2014. Allegheny County had the most, with 822 reported cases, followed by Montgomery County, with 384 reported cases, according to the health department.

York County's 2014 number of 304 is higher than 2013's reported 227 new infections and significantly lower than the highest reported year, 2003, which saw 468 reported cases of Lyme disease, according to the state data.

The 2014 total for York County also is lower than the number of cases reported in 2004, 2005 and 2009, according to the data.

Ticks that carry Lyme disease have been found in all 67 counties, according to the state Department of Health, which notes that it's essential to incorporate tick protection into one's daily routine.

Early intervention is extremely important when treating the disease, so seek treatment if you develop a bulls-eye rash or other symptoms associated with Lyme disease, according to the health department.

Harry Smith of Mount Joy applies insect repellent with Deet before mountain biking at Rocky Ridge County Park, Monday, May 15, 2017. Smith said he has been lucky avoiding ticks so far. John A. Pavoncello photo

The Centers for Disease Control offers a number of facts about Lyme disease and tips for avoiding the ticks that carry it:

  • Know where to expect ticks. Blacklegged ticks, which are the ticks that carry Lyme disease, live in moist, humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas. You may get a tick on you during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through leaves and bushes. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation.
  • Repel ticks on skin and clothing. Use repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET, picaridin or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Always follow product instructions. Use products that contain 0.5 percent permethrin on clothing. 
  • Perform daily tick checks. Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Search your entire body for ticks when you return from an area that may have ticks. Use a handheld or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Take special care to check under the arms, around the ears, behind the knees in and around all head and body hair, between the legs, around the waist and in the navel.
  • Check your clothing and pets and remove any ticks that are found. Place clothes into a dryer on high heat to kill ticks.
  • Remove attached ticks quickly and correctly. Remove an attached tick with fine-tipped tweezers as soon as you notice it. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely small.
  • Watch for signs or symptoms of the disease if you've been bitten. Those symptoms include rash, fever, aching joints and the telltale bulls-eye patterned bite mark.
  • Prevent ticks on animals by limiting their access to tick-infested areas and by using veterinarian-prescribed tick collars or spot-on treatments.
  • Create tick-safe zones. Keep patios, play areas and playground equipment away from shrubs, bushes and other vegetation. Regularly remove leaves, clear tall grasses and brush from around your home and place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to keep ticks away from recreational areas and away from you. Also, discourage deer from entering your yard, as they carry the blacklegged ticks.

Watch those pets: On Saturday, Kelly Fisher of York City was walking her 12-year-old dog, Griff, on the York County Heritage Rail Trail in the city. She said she uses K-9 Advantix II to keep ticks off her dog.

LOGO tick

"I can't say we've had a lot of problems with it," she said, but she acknowledged it can be hard to spot ticks on Griff, a black retriever mix.

While Fisher said she's not overly worried about Lyme disease, "it's a concern, like everything else."

More tips: A news release from Patient First, which has clinics in York County, provided other CDC tips for avoiding ticks, including wearing long-sleeved shirts, tucking pants legs into socks and not sitting on the ground.

People who go into a tick-prone area should shower within two hours of leaving the area to get ticks off as well, according to the news release.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD. Staff writer Christopher Dornblaser contributed to this report.