As spring moves into summer, Pennsylvania residents should take extra precautions to protect themselves from Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can appear in humans, some mice, birds, deer and other animals from the bite of a deer tick.
Rural Elk County is akin to paradise for ticks, with lots of high grass and leafy ground vegetation, their preferred habitat. They’re not picky, though-- they also hang out in the woods and in backyards-- practically anywhere outdoors, something important to remember as people do yard chores, golf, hike, go to their camps or attend graduation parties and other celebrations held outside. Additionally, ticks’ affinity for catching a meal from white-footed mice and whitetail deer, and these animals’ proximity to human communities in turn presents a high risk level for humans getting a tick and consequently contracting Lyme.
Ticks carry a spiral-shaped bacteria n their blood called a spirochete, which causes Lyme disease. They can be hard to spot, as adults grow to only the size of a sesame seed, and some people may not even realize they have been bitten if the tick has already fallen off their bodies. Not everyone who gets a tick bite will get Lyme, but ticks can also carry a host of other diseases that can be contracted by humans, including babesiosis and anaplasmosis.
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) this week sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging the agency to help the Commonwealth combat Lyme disease. Reports indicate that the mild winter and early spring in the state have increased the tick population.
“Lyme disease is a threat in every corner of Pennsylvania, and residents need to know that the CDC is doing everything in its power to tackle the increase in tick population the warm weather has caused,” said Senator Casey. “Ticks transmit a host of other illnesses in addition to Lyme disease, so it is essential that Pennsylvanians are taking precautions to protect themselves and their families this summer.”
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Casey said, Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease cases in the country, with between 3,000 and 5,000 cases are confirmed each year. According to the statement, that makes Lyme disease the fourth most commonly reported infectious disease in the state.
Casey is urging the agency to collaborate in campaigning aggressively to educate Pennsylvanians on prevention measures and ensure that people who contract Lyme disease are properly diagnosed and treated.
Warning signs of Lyme can vary among individuals, but certain symptoms can indicate its presence. The most well-known is a “bullseye” rash, which does not always appear. Other symptoms are fever, chills, headache, tiredness, and muscle and joint pain; some people are asymptomatic for a long time.
Because the bullseye rash is not always present and the other symptoms can be common to a host of medical conditions, the disease can be frustratingly hard to diagnose. Like many medical conditions, the longer it is left untreated the more damage it can cause, including arthritis, problems with neurological and nervous systems, and chronic weakness and fatigue.
More information on Lyme can be found at the St. Marys Public Library, by contacting Wolfel at 781-6332 or visiting the Lyme Action PA website (www.lymeactionpa.com ), or at the CDC and Pa. Dept. of Health websites (www.cdc.org  and www.health.state.pa.us , respectively.)
Pick up a copy of the Saturday, June 2, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.