Want more information on Lyme Disease? A live interview with Marcia Barrera appears here:
REGION—With temperatures on the rise and sunny days inviting those so inclined to venture outdoors, residents are reminded that May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and should be cautious of ticks when enjoying spring and summer to their fullest.
According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the TickCheck university lab in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, between 2000 and 2016, there were 636 confirmed cases of Lyme Disease in Wayne County, 679 in Pike County and 511in Lackawanna.
Statewide, confirmed cases total 87,852 from 2000-2016, the highest concentration of which occur in the southeast.
The number of cases each year has risen steadily over the last six to eight years.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA-DOH), the commonwealth has repeatedly led the nation in confirmed cases of Lyme disease.
According to Marcia Barrera, Chairperson for the Wayne County Lyme Disease Prevention Task Force, the trouble with Lyme Disease is that it is frequently transferred with other diseases carried by ticks, making both diagnosis and treatment difficult as different patients present the illness in varied ways.
“It is now known and widely accepted that ticks that carry Lyme Disease also cary other infections,” said Barrera, noting sometimes, “those other infections are not necessarily bacteria. They could be parasites, viruses, or protozoa.”
According to PA-DOH, “a lack of consensus among researchers and healthcare practitioners” about these myriad diseases have complicated efforts to curtail their spread.
With this realization, the task force chair explained doctors are now coming to the realization that multi-pharmaceutical solutions are needed to treat victims of tick bites effectively.
“It's not uncommon to be given two different drugs, right from the get-go,” said Barrera.
“Many Lyme-literate doctors are looking into integrative care that combines pharmaceuticals and other...treatments for the purposes of bolstering the immune system.”
Efforts to further study these co-infections are underway in Pike County.
As reported in The News Eagle, the Pike County Tick Borne Task Force is in the midst of a county-wide study to bolster knowledge about tick-borne illnesses, including Lyme Disease, how to prevent their transferral, and how to more effectively diagnose patients.
Running through the summer, the study looks to divide the county into nine regions, each collecting 100 to 150 ticks to observe for seven pathogens by researchers at East Stroudsburg University (ESU).
Results are expected in the Spring of 2019.
Signs and symptoms
Early identification of Lyme Disease is a crucial step toward timely treatment.
A prominent feature of a Lyme infection is the “bull's eye” rash, called erythema migrans, which may spring up within three to 14 days post bite incident.
Common locations to look for the rash are the thighs, groin, trunk and armpits.
Other early symptoms, the CDC says, include fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.
Some symptoms which may develop weeks or months after a bite can include, arthritis; nervous system issues such as numbness, pain nerve paralysis and meningitis; irregular heart rhythms; and problems with memory or concentration, fatigue headache, and sleep disturbances.
Lyme Disease, “... can attack every system,” said Barrera. “It can attack the neurological system, the cardiac system, the joints, the muscles, the brain, the digestive system.”
Due to the numerous ways Lyme Disease can present itself, Barrera noted it is sometimes overlooked as a potential diagnosis, leaving patients treated for the wrong illnesses, or sometimes none at all, for extended periods of time.
Barrera mentioned researchers are “... focusing on getting more effective testing.”
Helping to do so, ticks pulled off one's person can be sent to the TickCheck lab in East Stroudsburg for pathogen testing and identification.
More information about this is available at: www.tickcheck.com.
In order to keep safe against getting ticks in the first place, Barrera stated, “You have to cover up and you have to use some kind of prevention...That involves covering up as much of your body as possible, putting the top of your pants legs into your socks, putting protective sprays on your clothing and on any skin.”
Some common places ticks like to dwell include piles of wood and leaves, stone walls, overgrown shrubbery, on trees and even in an inch of grass, said Barrera.
When outside, it's best to avoid tick-infested areas and contact with overgrown brush, but should one venture into the woods, the CDC recommends using insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucaplyptus, para-menthe-diol, or 2-undecanone.
Applying permethrin to clothing, or buying pre-treated garments, is also beneficial as the chemical kills ticks on contact.
According to the CDC, it takes at least a day for Lyme Disease to transfer from a tick bite into a human being.
As such, daily, total-body inspections are a good way to ensure removal within that 24-hour timespan.
Areas of key importance where ticks can easily hide are in hair, under armpits, behind knees and in the groin.
If a latched tick is discovered after searching, the CDC recommends removing it with fine-tipped tweezers then cleaning the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
The health organization recommends not crushing the tick's body if able. Parts of the tick's mouth may remain attached.
The CDC cautions against using petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish or other devices to remove the tick.
If bitten, PA-DOH suggests monitoring the area for a month then calling a physician if symptoms develop.
After a thorough inspection, the CDC recommends bathing or showering to wash off any errant ticks which might be roaming on skin.
Barrera noted ticks can linger in clothing. The best way to eliminate them, as they can survive in water, is to tumble dry outdoor clothing on high for ten to 15 minutes to kill off whatever might be hiding in the folds.
She added it's also important to check any pets for ticks after they've been outside.
Information regarding Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses is available from local task forces like the Wayne County Lyme Disease Task Force, found on Facebook or their website: www.nolyme.com, the Pike County Tick Borne Diseases Task Force, available by phone at 570-296-3569 or online at www.pikepa.org/tick.html.
Other information is available from the CDC website (www.cdc.gov), the PA-DOH website (www.health.pa.gov), TickCheck.com, and www.lymedisease.org.