Erie County is seeing a record number of people with Lyme disease in 2016.
At least 168 cases have been reported in the county so far this year, more than double the 71 cases reported in 2015, the next highest annual total. More cases are expected to be found because the deer ticks that spread Lyme disease are currently in abundant supply, said Breanna Adams, an environmental protection specialist with the Erie County Department of Health.
“We had 30 ticks brought into the health department for identification in October and 17 more so far in November,” Adams said. “Almost all of them are deer ticks.”
The number of Lyme disease cases has risen steadily in recent years, as infected deer ticks have migrated from Presque Isle State Park to places throughout the county. The ticks are usually found in wooded or grassy areas.
“We have been spreading the word about Lyme disease and passing out information,” said Karen Tobin, director of environmental health for the health department. “We feel more people know to report tick bites to their doctor, or to bring the tick into us at the health department.”
David Hutzel, M.D., and the staff at UPMC Hamot’s Greenfield Internal Medicine, 300 State St., have seen more patients in recent weeks with tick bites and Lyme disease symptoms.
Most of the patients are what Hutzel called “weekend warriors.”
“A couple of guys were setting up their tree stands and another was simply lying on his back, working on his lawn mower,” Hutzel said. “Some of them went into the woods, but others were around their house.”
Patients with no symptoms or only a small rim of redness around the tick bite are prescribed a single dose of the antibiotic doxycycline. Two or three weeks’ worth of the drug is prescribed if the patients have other symptoms, including fever, chills, headache, fatigue or a red rash that can be in the shape of a bull’s-eye.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur three days to 30 days after a tick bite.
“If you had a tick bite and notice any symptoms, you should contact your medical provider and notify them,” said Charlotte Berringer, R.N., director of community health for the health department.
Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious, chronic health problems such as joint pain, neurological problems and, in rare cases, heart problems and hepatitis.
“Lyme disease can kill you if you aren’t treated,” Hutzel said. “It can attack your heart, attack your nervous system.”
The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to take precautions when spending time in the woods or grassy areas. Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ticks from reaching your skin.
“Inspect yourself after you go in those areas, and take a shower to remove any ticks crawling on your body,” Adams said. “Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat to kill any ticks.”
If you find a tick, you can take it to the health department, 606 W. Second St., for identification during regular business hours.