WVU Extension Entomology Specialist and Assistant Professor Daniel Frank specializes in agricultural pests, but found it important to get the word out about Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
Lyme disease cases are trending upward statewide, Frank said.
“When I first came and people were talking about Lyme disease, the Eastern Panhandle was considered pretty-much endemic, prevalent and common for Lyme disease. Since then, we’ve had cases of Lyme disease popping up in other areas of the state as well,” Frank said. “It’s a trend that we’re seeing elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic, too. It’s rapidly moving throughout the country.”
Frank said there are many theories as to why Lyme disease is spreading, including climate change, an increase in deer population and an increase in mice or other rodents. Mice or rodents generally infect ticks with Lyme disease.
“Usually deer are the last hosts ticks feed on, so generally when you see an increase in the tick population, you can be sure that there’s an increase in the deer population as well,” Frank said. “And, for the years where the mouse population has increased, there’s more of a chance for ticks to pick up that disease and spread it to humans.”
Other tick-borne diseases are not trending upward as much, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other bacterial diseases.
“Usually, those numbers are quite a bit lower than Lyme disease — maybe a handful compared to over 100 with Lyme disease,” Frank said.
To prevent ticks, Frank recommended tucking in one’s shirt and pulling socks over your pants to minimize skin exposure, as well as other tips.”
“I always like to recommend regular tick checks anytime that you’re in a habitat that is considered high-risk, like heavy woods, woodland edges or long grasses,” Frank said. “Just do a quick overview of your body to make sure there are no ticks on you. Also, if you are going to be in these tick habitats, there are repellants or Permethrin clothing which can kill ticks that come in contact.”
Community Care of West Virginia Family Nurse Practitioner Brandy Phares verified that more people are being seen for tick bites.
Phares said residents who develop body aches, a “bulls-eye rash” or if the site looks infected, painful or swollen should seek medical treatment.
“We are seeing a slight increase in Lyme disease,” Phares said, “so it is important to look out for those signs and symptoms.”
Phares asked that patients try to determine how long the tick has been on their bodies.
“If it has been on you from 24-72 hours, that’s when you start becoming at risk for Lyme disease,” Phares said. “After you come inside, we want you to check your body. If you remove that tick and you’re not developing any of those signs and symptoms, there’s really not a reason to be seen.”
According to Frank, ticks may feed anywhere on the body, but can commonly be found around the scalp, behind the ears, under armpits or behind knees and around waistbands. Because tick bites are often painless, most people are unaware that they have an attached tick unless they perform a careful visual inspection.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources website, if not treated, Lyme disease can progress over weeks to years to cause recurrent arthritis, pain and swelling at joints, facial palsy and neurological complications.
As of 2016, 11 counties in West Virginia were considered endemic for Lyme disease. Among them are Mineral, Roane and Wetzel counties.
Common tick species found in West Virginia include the American dog tick, black legged or deer tick and lone star tick, with the American dog tick the most commonly encountered in West Virginia. The American dog tick and lone star tick are about a 1/4 of an inch in length, but the black-legged tick is smaller, according to Frank.
All can be brown to reddish brown in color and can spread several pathogens.
Less than 30,000 Lyme disease cases were confirmed nationwide in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
- by Jonathan Weaver STAFF WRITER
- Jul 3, 2017