Concerned about rise in Lyme Disease, scientists advise protection

     (andrianocz / BigStock)

    (andrianocz / BigStock)

    Most cases are in Northeast and Midwest U.S. 

    It’s the beginning of Lyme disease season, and experts don’t expect a decrease in the illness. In 2015, 95% of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. occurred in the Northeast and Midwest, including in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

    Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 10.42.17 AMMap courtesy of Centers for Disease Control

    We’re all familiar with concerns about Lyme disease, but where does it come from?

    Marten Edwards is a professor of Biology at Muhlenberg College. He studies ticks and tick-borne diseases. “Lyme disease is spread by one kind of tick: the black-legged tick or the deer tick.” The tick picks up the bacteria from white-footed mice that live in the forest. 

    Edwards says based on expectations of a large mouse population, there could be more cases of Lyme disease this year. But whether those predictions play out or not, he says, “the way that I prepare my 10-year-old daughter to go to nature camp and romp around the woods all day is going to be the same.”

    Edwards advises treating socks and shoes with an insecticide called permethrin, which repels ticks. “The ticks hate it, and it’s very inexpensive to have your clothes treated with this. And you can wash your clothes about 70 times without any effect.” Edwards says he has his own family wear clothes that are treated with the insecticide.

    After you do walk or work outside, Edwards says, it’s important to check your body for the potentially Lyme-disease carrying ticks, which can cause a rash and flu-like symptoms.

    Burlington County, New Jersey resident and school nurse Eileen Valerio experienced the dreaded illness firsthand. “I did end up with some bizarre symptoms that were coming on, like foot pain, shin pain, knee pain, and things just kept coming, and the flu-like symptoms that people are warned about and if I had not attributed it to the tick bite three weeks earlier, I would have just blew it off as just a little virus. So I immediately went to my own physician.”

    Valerio says with antibiotics, her symptoms improved. If you think you have Lyme disease, experts advise seeking medical attention as soon as possible.

    Marten Edwards, biology professor at Muhlenberg College, says the bacterial infection has two phases. “The early phase might have flu-like symptoms, might have a strange rash that grows from the site of the bite, you might have some neurological symptoms. And they might go away and then later on you might notice other symptoms that can be joint pain and neurological problems that can be very very serious.”

    Edwards says if you do contract Lyme disease, the earlier you can take antibiotics, the better. For information about Lyme disease protection and prevention, he recommends: http://tickencounter.org.

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