For the past several years, Pennsylvania has led the nation in confirmed Lyme disease cases. With more than 12,000 reported cases in 2016, Pennsylvania had more than triple the cases of runners-up New York (4,002) and New Jersey (3,850). With approximately 9,000 confirmed Pennsylvania cases in 2015, it is clear that this problem is increasing in intensity and must be addressed through concentrated prevention and detection measures.
Early detection is key in preventing the flu-like symptoms and rash that often accompany Lyme disease. Many, but not all, Lyme disease rashes are characterized by their bullseye appearance, though small red lesions at the site of the tick bite are normal and do not necessarily indicate Lyme disease.
A bacterial infection, Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick). While it’s important to remain vigilant, there is no need to panic. It is rare to acquire Lyme disease unless a tick is attached to your skin for at least 36 – 48 hours, and not all ticks carry Lyme disease bacterium. If a tick has been attached longer than 48 hours or you are not sure how long it has been attached, contact your primary care physician for guidance. In cases where the tick has been attached for an extended period of time or you live in an area with a high infection rate of Lyme disease, your doctor may prescribe doxycycline, an antibiotic. When detected early, Lyme disease is highly treatable with antibiotics.
Left untreated, the disease can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system, causing complications like pain/arthritis, impaired motor and sensory skills and an enlarged heart.
As warmer weather approaches and we start to spend more time outdoors, it’s important to remain vigilant.
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Use insect repellents containing 20 – 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily detect ticks that may be present on the skin.
- Check children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can enter the home on clothing and pets and attach to a person later.
- Wash clothing with hot water to kill ticks.
- For clothing that does not require washing, tumble dry on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks.
If you spot a tick on your skin, remove it as soon as possible. Using tweezers or small forceps, grasp the tick close to the skin and pull up firmly with steady pressure. Be careful not to squeeze or twist, which could push more saliva into the wound. Disinfect the skin and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If possible, save the tick so you and/or your physician can determine if the tick is the species that carries and transmits Lyme disease.
St. Barnabas Medical Center is committed to monitoring this epidemic, educating the public, and treating patients who become infected. For more information on our efforts, call 724-443-7231.