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Local officials warn high rate of Lyme disease from tick bites

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette A woman walks through Brandon Park in the city with bare ankles on a nice spring Wednesday afternoon. Officials warn that tick bites and cases of Lyme disease are “getting worse” and encourage people to use DEET and cover their bodies with adequate clothing when outside.

With summer just around the corner, officials are concerned about the surge of Lyme disease carrying ticks throughout the area.

Dr. Rutul Dalal, medical director of infectious disease for UPMC Susquehanna, said ticks are growing in numbers every year and also spreading Lyme disease.

“People don’t take it seriously. They think, ‘Well, it hasn’t happened to me.’ But, when it does happen, there’s confusion about how people get it and how to prevent it,” he said. “Things are getting worse. They’ve become more infectious faster.”

He said 50 to 60 percent of the ticks in Lycoming County have a parasite known as Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.

“It’s just a matter of when they bite somebody,” he said.

So with such a problem in the area, it is important to know how to avoid ticks and what to do outside.

“They are out in full force right now,” said Michael Crowley, Raymond B. Winter State Park manager.

He said Permethrin is a chemical people can use to treat clothing before wearing it outdoors.

“It has to dry before you wear the clothes, so follow the manufacturer directions of what you’re using,” he said.

“The big things with ticks are about protecting yourself from ticks rather than controlling ticks themselves … Ticks are out there, and it’s just a matter of protecting yourself,” said Sarah Wurzbacher, forester with the Lycoming County Penn State Extension.

Wurzbacher said DEET is a good option to use as direct insect repellent for ticks.

“It’s the major chemical used in insect repellent,” she said. “I recommend using some type of insect repellent and concentrate on your legs and places where ticks will find you.”

She said legs are a good option to spray because ticks often hide in tall grass or bushes, but they’re capable of jumping, hanging off branches and landing on people as well. She said it is better to wear clothing so that skin is not directly exposed.

“The main thing is protection. Bare skin is not ideal,” she said.

Likewise, even enclosing openings of clothing can help.

“You should tuck your pants into your socks, and tuck your shirt into your pants so the ticks don’t have anywhere to go but up,” said Crowley. “Hopefully, you can spot them and remove them from your clothes when they crawl upward.”

Dalal said it can be helpful to wear light colored clothing.

“If you wear white or light colored clothing, it makes it easier to see ticks. Wear a hat as well if you can,” he said. “Sometimes you’re passing through some brush, and they could stick onto your scalp, and you won’t see it right away.”

Having pets outdoors can also attract ticks.

“If you have dogs out there with you, I would check them over pretty well. A lot of times you can see them crawling on the fur of the dog, especially if it’s a lighter coat,” Crowley said. “I always check around the top and the back of the neck and going down their back.”

He said talking to veterinarians can help with tick prevention in animals.

“There’s a lot of good products out there for dogs as far as to use, be it topical or collars. That works really well for my creatures,” he said.

After being outside, be mindful that ticks still might be attached to clothing or could have possibly bitten already.

“The other thing good to do is after you come inside, it’s important to do a very thorough check for yourself. Look in your clothing and look in all spots,” Wurzbacher said. “If they found their way on your leg, they can crawl up and go anywhere. You should do a very thorough check.”

Dalal said that ticks are prone to hiding in places people may not look.

“Areas to look would be in around the ears, back of knees, inside of belly button, around the waist, in between the legs, in body hair … These are the common areas where they could go,” he said.

Dalal said ticks can even be in people’s yards if they’re somewhere that deer can be because they could fall off the deer, so it’s important to be mindful that even just being in a yard could potentially have ticks.

If someone discovers a tick bite, the tick should be removed as soon as possible. Dalal said it is important not to use bare hands in removal because of infection.

“Always use blunt forceps. Hold right where the legs are,” he said. “Sometimes yank it out with the forceps, but if the mouth is attached, that won’t help. Once you remove the mouth parts, rub it with an antiseptic.”

Ticks should not be squeezed because the blood should not be pushed back into the person.

He said a tick must be attached to a person 24-36 hours to transfer infection.

“If the tick is super large and dark black, it has probably transferred infection,” he said. “If the blood is in the gut in the tick, it takes the tick time to spit it back on your skin to spread the infection.”

Quick medical attention can prevent Lyme disease if someone has been recently bitten.

“The big thing you have to be careful about is if you think you were bitten by a tick, if you get to someone within 72 hours … All you have to do is get an antibiotic, and then you’re all good,” he said. “There are options available.”

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