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Be wary of tick borne illnesses

Lyme, Rocky Mtn. Spotted Fever and others are possible

KINGWOOD —   In 2018, Preston County Health Officer Dr. Fred Conley warned that Lyme disease was on the rise in Preston County.  He said as of August 2018, 17  cases were reported.

Dr. Eric J. Dotseth, state public health entomologist with the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources (DHHR), said the number rose to 44 in 2019.

Dotseth said numbers for 2020 could be difficult to determine.

“We look at vet submissions for some of our numbers and vet visits will decrease because of COVID-19,” he said.

Dotseth said veterinarians are not the only source of information. He said ticks are also submitted by wildlife biologists, the public, hospitals and found on dead animals.

 He  recently completed a tick survey that included   Monongalia and Preston Counties, and found black-legged ticks  are very active in the Morgantown area.

“Black-legged ticks (sometimes called deer ticks) are not mobile,” Dotseth said. “They sit in a location with their legs up and attach themselves to people and animals that pass by.”

He said the largest population of black-legged ticks is found in the eastern part of West Virginia. That is also where most cases of Lyme disease are found.

Besides Lyme, Dotseth said  a tick can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), babesiois, anaplasmosis and ehrlichosis.

 “It’s important to stress that ticks are most active in the summer months but you can still get tick bites year round,” Jeannie Welch, public health nurse for the Preston County Health Department, wrote in an email.   

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and rarely, Borrelia mayonii. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected deer ticks.  

These ticks  are found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. People or animals may be bitten by the ticks during outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, or even while spending time in their yards.  

According to the CDC, typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash called erythema migrans. If not treated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.  

Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated  with a few weeks of antibiotics.

To prevent Lyme disease, the CDC recommends using insect repellent  with DEET, treating clothing and gear with a repellant containing 0.5% permethrinand,  and checking yourself, your children and your pets daily for ticks, and taking a shower and washing and drying your clothes at high temperatures after being outdoors.

If you are bitten by a tick and have any of the Lyme disease or RMSF symptoms, contact your health provider.