With ticks present throughout Pa., experts urge Lyme disease prevention
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For the first time, Department of Environmental Protection researchers have found blacklegged ticks in all 67 Pennsylvania counties.
Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, can transmit Lyme disease to humans and are the primary vector for the inflammatory disease in eastern North America.
York County's Lyme disease cases have trended downward since 2009, when 382 cases were reported, according to data from the state Department of Health. In 2013, the county had 219 cases.
Treatment: Dr. Linda Taylor at Patient First in Springettsbury Township said she saw some Lyme cases back in March, and patients continue to come in with symptoms, which can include fever, rash, joint aches and headaches.
The traditional "bull's-eye rash" associated with the disease occurs in about 30 percent of patients, she said.
A tick has to be embedded for at least 36 to 48 hours to transmit the disease, she said.
"They're pretty small — most people miss them," Taylor said of blacklegged ticks.
If a patient has symptoms and a doctor is pretty sure Lyme is present, treatment involves antibiotics for 10 days to 3 weeks, depending on severity, she said.
"If you get treated in the first 30 days, you're probably not going to have any long-term symptoms," such as Bell's palsy, Taylor said.
It's rare to die from the disease, but it is possible for those who have compromised immune systems, she said.
Prevention: These ticks don't fly, jump or crawl up on large vegetation, and they tend to stay within a foot of the ground and wait for something to brush up against them, according to Tim Abbey, an entomologist and educator at Penn State Extension in Springettsbury Township.
"Typically, when they get onto people, it's just incidental contact," he said, and a chance of contact is highest when in or near the woods.
Blacklegged ticks are tiny and can attach anywhere on the body — the legs, groin, waistband, back and hairline are equally affected, Abbey said.
To remove a tick, use a pair of fine tweezers to run down its body and do a "smooth, quick pull," he said.
"You really want to get the mouth parts out," he said, and old tricks such as burning ticks or covering them with nail polish aren't effective and can actually annoy the tick, causing it to release more digestive enzymes with bacteria into the body.
Using repellents with DEET can keep ticks at bay, and it's "extremely important" to check for ticks at the end of the day, Abbey said. If out hiking, wear long pants to cover skin — or, to take prevention a step further, fold pants and tuck them into socks, he said.
"Having said that, if it's nice outside, I'm wearing shorts," Abbey said. "Ticks don't stop me from going out and spending time in areas where they occur."
— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@ yorkdispatch.com.