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House Health Committee talks Lyme Disease

A public hearing discussing the impact of tick-borne illnesses in Pa. was held in East Stroudsburg, Monroe County, last week.

Representative Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe/Pike) and Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Crawford/Forest/Warren), chairwoman of the House Health Committee, along with other committee members held a public hearing last week to discuss with local and state officials about recommendations as to how the state can combat the crisis of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses within the commonwealth.

Lyme disease, one of the more common tick-borne illnesses, is transmitted from tick to victim within 18 to 24 hours, according to the East Stroudsburg University’s (ESU) Tick Lab. Symptoms typically present themselves within three to 30 days, but not all infected individuals will experience symptoms.

70-80% of infected individuals will experience a rash around the site of infection that may resemble a bullseye mark, which can spread to different areas of the body as the infection spreads.

Flu-like symptoms are common with Lyme disease and may include headache, fatigue and chills, fever, and muscle and joint pains. Tingling and numbness may occur as well as changes in vision, according to ESU Tick Lab.

“Pennsylvania continues to lead in Lyme and tick-borne disease cases in the United States,” said Brown. “It is imperative that our local and state officials, as well as our Legislature, continue working side by side to develop new and innovative ways to continue raising awareness about the tick-borne diseases that plague our Commonwealth while also making sure that our doctors and their patients are aware of their options for testing and treating these tick-borne diseases.”

Brown, an advocate for Lyme disease and tick-borne disease prevention, has sponsored both House Bill 94 and House Bill 96.

House Bill 94 would require school nurses to remove a tick when it’s found on a child during the school day. Furthermore, requiring the nurse to notify the parent/guardian and provide them with medical information and resources and store the tick for seven days.

House Bill 96 would require physicians to complete two hours of continuing medical education focused on Lyme disease and tick-borne illnesses. This would be in order to help physicians receive the most up-to-date information on pathogens, testing parameters, patient symptom profiles and current treatment options.

Nicole Chinnici, director of ESU Tick Lab, said “it is essential we continue to evolve with the rapidly evolving world of ticks. Continuing to fund the free tick-testing program is critical in generating important education and tick-borne disease prevalence data, as well as giving physicians an extra diagnostic tool to better understand their patients’ risk of developing a tick-borne disease.”

“[This] debilitating disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics when detected and treated early,” said Rapp.

Rapp’s Lyme disease prevention legislation, House Bill 629, is currently awaiting consideration in the state Senate.

“It is a win-win to ensure that every patient diagnosed with this epidemic and other related tick-borne diseases has full access and insurance coverage for available and emerging diagnostics and treatment options, regardless if the treatment plan includes short-term or long-term antibiotic treatment.”

According to ESU Tick Lab, out of the hundreds of tick species in existence, humans contract most tick-born diseases from only three types of ticks: blacklegged ticks (deer ticks), brown dog ticks and lone star ticks. Each of these three different types of ticks are capable of carrying different pathogens.

The deer tick is one of North America’s most common ticks and is hard to spot due to it’s small size, about the same size as a sesame seed. It can be identified by it’s reddish-brown color and black shield on it’s back with black legs.

The dog tick is the largest of America’s most common ticks. It is brown with pointed mouth parts. It most commonly bites dogs, but can also feed on humans.

The lone star tick has a reddish-brown body along the outter portion and a white spot “lone star” on the middle of their back.

There are ways you can protect yourself, your pets and your home against ticks, according to the ESU Tick Lab.

To protect yourself, it is important to think about the clothing you wear.

Treat clothes, shoes and outdoor gear with permethrin, an insecticide. Use gloves and let clothing dry before touching. Wear light colored clothing, tuck pants into socks and treat skin and clothes with 20% DEET or essential oils. Also, put clothes in dryer on high immediately after being outdoors or in a tick habitat.

remember to perform tick checks within two hours of being outside including armpits, hair and groin.

To protect pets, treat bedding with permithrin, again using gloves and allowing to dry before touching. Perform tick checks regularly after being outdoors including in ears and under armpits. Treat pets with anti-tick medication or an anti-tick collar. You can also ask your veterinarian about a possible Lyme disease vaccine for dogs.

Some ways to protect your home include: treating bedding with permithrin, creating a mulch barrier with cedar chips, keep grass short and free of debris, spray yard with tick killer and avoid feeding deer or encouraging them to come into the yard to avoiding bringing ticks in.

If you spot a tick on a person or pet, it is important to remove it immediately.

If the tick has not attached to the host yet, you can simply pick it up and place it in a plastic bag.

If the tick has attached, remove it carefully by following these steps: 1) use tweezers or a tick removal tool and grip the tick as close to the head as possible, 2) steadily pull the tick out avoiding twisting or squeezing it, 3) place the tick in a plastic bag, saving can help identify possible diseases and allow for testing if needed, 4) clean the bite with an antiseptic such as isopropyl alcohol, and 5) some redness at the site is normal and should subside, watch for signs of infection. If you develop a rash, redness or pain, see a doctor right away.

ESU’s Tick Lab provides a free base test on ticks submitted for Lyme disease. They also offer three additional tests based on the species of tick.

Pennsylvanians can send a tick sample to the lab and receive the test results.

Tests can be ordered on their site, www.ticklab.org. Samples can be mailed to 562 Independence Road, East Stroudsburg, Pa., 18301.

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