Bugs in the Burgh
During the spring Doreen Deluca was working in her Ross Township backyard when she noticed something on her arm.
“It was brown. I thought it was a little needle from an evergreen tree or a piece of bark,” she said.
She brushed it off and thought it was no big deal.
Apparently it was. Doreen had just been bitten by a deer tick infected with Lyme disease.
According to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Pennsylvania continues to lead the nation in reported cases of Lyme disease. In 2016, a total of 12,092 cases were reported, which is triple the number of cases reported in New York, the state that registered the second-highest total.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health established a task force in 2014 to study and address the dramatic increase in Lyme disease cases and found that “reported cases of Lyme disease underestimate its true incidence by a factor of ten,” which means that there may be thousands of residents in Western Pennsylvania who are infected with Lyme disease and either don’t know it, or don’t report it.
We’ve got bugs in the Burgh.
While anybody can be infected with Lyme disease, children are at particular risk during warm weather months when they spend more time outdoors. Since we live in a high risk area, parents should know the facts about Lyme disease and understand how to protect their kids and themselves from this preventable infection.
What is Lyme disease and how do you get it?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria that are only transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. Not every tick carries the infection. In the Eastern United States, only the deer tick transmits Lyme disease. Other common ticks in our area can carry other diseases, but only a bite from a deer tick can cause Lyme disease.
What are the symptoms?
The biggest tell-tale symptom of Lyme disease is a circular, bulls-eye rash that swells and spreads outward. This rash may only last during the first few weeks after getting infected, and if the rash develops in an awkward place, like a hairline, or in the crease of an elbow or knee, it may be difficult to recognize. If the infection is left untreated, the disease could spread to other organs and affect the nervous system, heart and joints. Joint pain is sometimes the only symptom children experience. Symptoms like fever, muscle ache and fatigue can be mistaken for the flu, which can delay correct diagnosis of the disease.
What should I do if I think my child has Lyme disease?
If your child is exhibiting specific symptoms, like rash, joint pain, facial weakness or paralysis, see your primary care provider. If symptoms are more severe, go to the Emergency Room. Always tell health care providers if you know or suspect your child has been bitten by or exposed to ticks.
How is Lyme disease treated?
The doctor will prescribe antibiotics for 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the stage of infection. A blood test may or may not be ordered, since the blood test for Lyme disease may not appear positive until the patient has been infected for a month or more. The antibiotics are safe and effective and once treated, the disease is cured. If left untreated, chronic symptoms may last for months to years, but there is no truth to the once infected, always infected myth.
How can Lyme disease be prevented?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer the following tips to protect your family from Lyme disease.
- Use insect repellent that contains 20 - 30% DEET. Follow the instructions on the packaging.
- Make children bathe or shower as soon as possible after they come indoors.
- Look for ticks on their bodies, generally in warm, moist areas like under the armpits, behind the knees, in the hair, and in the groin.
- Put clothes in the dryer on high heat for 60 minutes to kill any remaining ticks.
At the time that she became infected, Doreen was also being treated with antibiotics for an unrelated medical condition. It wasn’t until she finished taking that course of antibiotics that her tick-bitten arm swelled dramatically, prompting her to see her doctor, who was aware of the prevalence of Lyme disease in this area and wisely ordered bloodwork. When positive results came back a week later, Doreen was prescribed another antibiotic, which she took for 28 days. This treatment was successful and she has not had any lingering symptoms since.
Her mindset has changed, though. Although she had her entire yard treated with a flea and tick spray, she now hesitates to let her 5-year old grandson, Josh, play in her backyard anymore.
Still, it’s a small price to pay.
“I consider myself lucky,” Doreen says.
Ann K. Howley is a popular author, blogger and speaker. Read her award-winning essay, Milking It, which appears in the latest HerStories Project anthology, So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood.