Pennsylvania has been the best in the country at a lot of positive things in the past few years, such as promoting access to healthy foods, and preserving farmland.
But here’s something we probably won’t want to put on the travel brochures: PA Lyme disease statistics show the state led the nation in reported cases of the illness in 2013.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to people bitten by an infected tick known as the black-legged or deer tick. The number of cases of Lyme disease has risen 25-fold since health agencies began recording the disease in 1982.
Pennsylvania has been the number one state for Lyme disease nearly every year since 2009 – New Jersey beat us by 22 cases in 2010 – and accounted for nearly a fifth of all cases nationwide in 2013.
And this year, for the first time, the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease have been observed in all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
How does Bucks County fit in?
According to PA Lyme disease statistics, most recorded cases in the state tend to appear in the suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia.
In the past, Bucks County’s Lyme disease statistics have put it near the top of the list in terms of reported cases of the illness. In 2007, there were between 200-300 reported cases in Bucks, putting it in the same category as Berks, Lancaster and York counties. (The state’s leaders that year were Chester and Montgomery counties, which each had between 500 and 600 cases.)
How serious is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a multi-stage, multi-system inflammatory illness that first manifests itself through a red rash that resembles a bull’s eye. Other early symptoms include fatigue, fever, chills, headache, joint and muscle ache and swollen lymph nodes.
Patients who receive treatment in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover quickly and completely. Treatment involves oral antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime axetil.
If left untreated, other symptoms may appear, including:
- Additional rashes on other parts of the body.
- Facial or Bell’s palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face).
- Heart palpitations and dizziness.
- Shooting pains, along with pain and swelling in larger joints such as the knees.
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness caused by meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord).
In the months and years following a tick bite, patients with an untreated infection may begin to have occasional bouts of arthritis. Some patients will begin to experience neurological problems, including shooting paints, numbness, tingling in their hands or feet, and short term memory trouble.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of Lyme disease patients have symptoms that can last for years after treatment. These symptoms include fatigue, sleep disturbance, cognitive difficulties and muscle or joint pain.
You can try to avoid exposure to Lyme disease by taking precautions when you go outdoors. It’s especially important to take care in June and July, the two months where a majority of the Lyme cases are reported.
Here a few precautions to take, courtesy of the Lower Bucks Lyme Disease Support Group:
- Stay in the middle of wooded trails.
- Consider using a tick repellent that contains DEET on your skin, and Premethrin-based repellent on your clothing.
- Wear white socks, and tuck them into your pants.
- Make frequent checks for ticks when you’re in the woods, and then do a full body exam when you get home. Deer ticks are tiny – the size of a pinhead – so check carefully.
- If you find a tick, don’t put any substances on it. Use tweezers, grasp it by the mouth, next to the skin, and gently remove it. Put it in a plastic bag or a Tupperware container if you want to get it tested, and wash the bite, the tweezers, and your hands.
If you have found a tick and want to have it examined, Peter Benz Landscaping can help.
We now offer the Lymenator test, which can determine within 10 minutes whether a tick that you’ve found — whether on yourself, a family member or a pet — is carrying Lyme disease.
If you find a tick, follow the fifth step listed above and contact us right away. Lyme disease can be a serious illness, and early recognition and treatment might make all the difference.