Last year nearly 30,000 Americans were diagnosed with Lyme disease and Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of confirmed cases. According to Allegheny County Health Department spokesperson Guillermo Cole, the number of cases among Allegheny County residents has been hovering in the 20-30 a year range for some time but how the disease is being contracted is changing.
“In the past, the infections were mainly acquired on trips outside our region but in recent years more an more infections are being acquired locally,” said Cole. He is not surprised, “The tick that transmits Lyme disease, which is the deer tick, is now the most commonly found tick on people and pets here in Allegheny County.” The Centers for Disease Control confirms that the incidence of the illness continues to spread to the east. In 2009 there were 4,950 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania.
Lyme disease can usually be treated with antibiotics with the patient suffering no long-term effects but if not treated while in its early stages it can have lasting impacts on the central nervous system. Cole says many people with Lyme disease originally believe they have a mild case of the flu until the telltale red “bull’s eye” rash begins to appear.
People usually come in contact with deer ticks while walking through high grasses or through leaf litter. Cole says staying on paths or in clearings will help to avoid contact with the ticks. Applying insect repellant containing 20-30 percent deet will also help as well as tucking long pants into socks and wearing long sleeve shirts when hiking through areas where the tick may live.
Most Lyme cases are reported from late May through August.