Tick season raises awareness; steps to prevent Lyme disease

By Tiffany Morgan, The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — Tiny black legs. They latch onto skin and bite.

More than 36 hours pass, and shivers turn into headaches. And headaches turn into a visit to MedExpress.

Tick season is getting more severe every year; this one in particular is one of which to be aware.

There are a total of six diseases that ticks can carry, but Jane Trombetta, registered nurse and vice president of Quality for MedExpress, said the main focus is on Lyme disease since it is the most common.

According to last year’s report, MedExpress centers in Pennsylvania saw the second highest number of ticks and Lyme-related visits across MedExpress’ 19 operating states.

According Trombetta, getting Lyme disease only occurs when you get bit by a specific tick, known as the black-legged tick, or more commonly as the deer tick.

The deer tick is the only tick that can hold the bacteria in it that then transfers it to people when bit. Trombetta said the key is detecting a bite early and removing the tick within 36 hours.

“If you happen to get bit by a deer tick that carries that bacteria, your odds are high if you don’t get that tick off of your skin within 36 hours,” Trombetta said.

Jennifer Costolo-Michael, a registered sanitarian at the Mon County Health Department, said ticks acquire the disease by picking it up through the several stages in their life cycle.

It can happen when they latch on and eat blood from mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

To properly remove a tick, Trombetta said to use tweezers, by getting as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight up.

To then get rid of the tick, it is recommended to either flush it down the toilet or put it in a plastic bag and throw it away.

The main symptoms, after Lyme disease starts to develop, include irritation in the area of the bite, itchiness, discomfort, headache, chills and joint pain.

Trombetta added that another symptom is a “classic rash” that looks like a bullseye with a red center and a white circle around it and another red circle around that.

The rash usually develops three days after the bite from the tick, but Trombetta said only 70 percent of cases actually develop a rash. Additionally, the rash is not always located where the tick bites the skin.

Trombetta said the most common places on the body to look for ticks are behind the knees, on legs, under arms and in other places that can be “easily brushed over.”

When looking for ticks in the outdoors, whether it be while doing yardwork or going for a walk in the forest, Trombetta said it is important to be careful and aware of where ticks can be hiding. The most common places ticks are known to hide are in high grass, wooded areas and under leaves.

There are some tips and tricks for when going outside in areas where ticks lurk, with having as much of your skin covered as possible the key step, according to Trombetta.

“When you’re outside in these high-risk areas like high grass or wooded areas, wear long sleeves. Cover your skin as much as possible,” Trombetta said. “You can use insect repellents, as well, but really the important thing is when you come indoors is to take a shower and really make sure that you didn’t pick up a tick when you were outside.”

Costolo-Michael said this season is popular for trail-walking, but it is important to be aware and avoid wooded areas as much as possible.

“When you do go out, you want to make sure that if you’re walking on trails, you walk in the center of a trail,” Costolo-Michael said.

Costolo-Michael said after being out in wooded areas, check for ticks and then take the clothing worn outside and put it in a dryer for 10 minutes on high heat to kill any ticks that could be on the clothes.

Costolo-Michael said that the Mon County Health Department provides further information about Lyme disease and what to do to prevent it. The department provides pamphlets and information, at www.monchd.org/.

MedExpress can only evaluate Lyme disease based upon symptoms and lab tests. There are two blood tests that are done, but Trombetta said it is not a “simple, quick blood test.” Trombetta said people who think they have been bitten by a tick can only be tested if Lyme-related symptoms are present.

Trombetta said the disease can be treated with antibiotics, but they have to be taken for two to three weeks, making it a “long course of antibiotics.”

Currently, only animals can be vaccinated for Lyme disease, but Trombetta said there are advancements and testing occurring so in the future, people can be vaccinated, as well. Trombetta said that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as some pharmaceutical companies, are doing research with the FDA and looking into future vaccinations for Lyme disease on people.

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