Officials warn of increased prevalence of ticks in area
It’s a good year for ticks and that’s not good news for those working and recreating in Warren County.
Pennsylvania Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Patrick McDonnell, and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn met this week at Boyd Big Tree Preserve in Dauphin County “to discuss the high prevalence of ticks in Pennsylvania, highlight the numerous diseases that ticks can carry and remind residents of ways they can protect against tick bites,” according to a release from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.
“Ticks are most active during warmer months, which is why we typically see more instances of tick bites and cases of tick-borne diseases this time of year,” Johnson said. “This year in particular, we are seeing increases in the number of Lyme disease reports across the state, and clinicians are reporting that they are seeing more cases of other tick-borne diseases, such as anaplasmosis.”
DEP collected twice as many Blacklegged tick nymphs as last year, according to the release.
“The increase in nymphs really drives home the message that we all need to adhere to the necessary precautions to stay safe from ticks,” McDonnell said.
The news is not just bad in the Harrisburg area.
“Ticks are bad everywhere, including Warren County,” according to Cornplanter District Forester Cecile Stelter.
Available data shows a trend of increasing numbers of tick-borne disease cases, she said.
Allegheny National Forest Safety and Occupational Health Specialist Erin Leet agreed.
“Staff working on Allegheny National Forest have been noticing a high number of ticks this summer,” Leet said. “Our staff take proactive steps to reduce the chance of contracting tick-borne diseases and we encourage people recreating on the Forest to do the same.”
“You can get ticks in the woods but also you can get them in the yard, along hiking trails, where there is brush or shrubs… just about anywhere where there is vegetation there can be ticks,” Stelter said. “They are typically found in wooded and grassy areas.”
“Spending time outside walking your dog, camping, or hunting could bring you in close contact with ticks,” Leet said. “Many people get ticks in their own yard.”
“If you are recreating on the Allegheny National Forest, to lessen your chances of coming into contact with ticks avoid heavily wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter,” she said. “When possible, travel in the center of trails and avoid brushing up against vegetation.”
“Ticks are looking for exposed skin to bite,” Leet said. “Limit the amount of exposed skin by wearing closed-toed shoes, shin-high socks, long shirt, and long pants. Tucking your pant legs into your socks and tucking your shirt into your pants can be one effective and easy way to prevent transmission by limiting skin exposure.”
“Wear light colored clothing so you can see ticks easily,” Stelter said. “Apply insect repellents. Some repellents are for clothing and some are for the skin surface — know the difference and apply properly per the label directions.”
“Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin,” Leet said. “Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. Alternatively, you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.”
“Check yourself, others, pets, etc. immediately when coming in from out-of-doors,” Stelter said. “Ticks can get on a pet and then the pet can come into the house and the tick can then jump off the pet onto a person.”
“Showering after coming in doors may wash off unattached ticks, which reduces your risk of getting Lyme disease or other tickborne diseases,” Leet said. “Tumble drying clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes can kill ticks on dry clothing. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, hot water is recommended. Cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks.”
“If a tick is found attached to your skin don’t panic,” she said. “The key is to remove the tick as soon as possible. There are many tick removal tools on the market but tweezers work well.”
“Diagnosis of tick-related diseases can often be difficult to make,” Stelter said. “A rash or red patch at the sign of the bite or a bulls-eye can be observed with some people but others have no visible reaction.”
“Mild flu-like symptoms — headaches, fever or chills, stiff neck or muscles — can occur early after a bite. Pain, swelling and joint pain may become more prolific over time if there is no treatment.”
There are several times when a person who has been bitten by or suspects they have been bitten by a tick should seek medical help.
“If an individual experiences any of the symptoms lasting for several days they should see their physician,” Stelter said. “If they are unable to remove an attached tick see a doctor. Pregnant or nursing women who have been exposed to ticks should also see a doctor.”
“Lyme disease is treatable — the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat and to fully recover from. Left untreated Lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.”
Potential effects of Lyme disease, according to Leet, include:
¯ “Severe headaches and neck stiffness;
¯ “Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face);
¯ “Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints;
¯ “Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones;
¯ “Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat (Lyme carditis);
¯ “Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath;
¯ “Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord;
¯ “Nerve pain; and
¯ “Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.”
There are also other diseases associated with ticks.
“The Tick Research Lab of Pennsylvania, East Stroudsburg University, provides a free service of testing and analyzing your tick,” Leet said. “They test for tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.”
Those interested in sending a tick to the TickLab may do so by following instructions available at www.ticklab.org, Stelter said. Results will be returned within 72 hours.
Leet advised that those who are bitten by ticks not use the lab testing to make their medical decisions.