Though as small as 3/8 of an inch, ticks can pack a potent punch.
They are carriers of not only Lyme disease, but also other diseases such as Rocky Mountain fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If improperly treated, these infections can be fatal.
As far as Lyme disease goes, Greene County residents are more fortunate than residents in other parts of the state.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Greene, along with Fayette, Washington and Allegheny Counties, has one of the lowest percentages of Lyme disease infections in the Pennsylvania. Between 2013 and 2017, 1 to 34.9 residents per 100,000 in this area were diagnosed with the disease. This contrasts with the 150+ per 100,000 people in other sections of the state, largely in counties clustered in central Pennsylvania.
“Forecasting the severity of Lyme disease is difficult but we expect to see high numbers of cases continue with the prominence of the black-legged tick in every county in PA,” said Nick Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Locally, three members of the Shields family, who operate a nursery and flower farm in Spraggs, have been bitten by ticks.
Leigh Shields twice had a tick encounter, tested positive for Lyme disease and was successfully treated with antibiotics. His son Victor had a similar experience, but his wife Lillian had a much more involved episode.
“At the end of May last year, Lillian felt awful and developed a very blotchy rash all over her body,” Leigh said. “When she went to the Clay-Battelle Clinic for treatment, her initial diagnosis was leukemia...She got a positive diagnosis for Lyme disease that came in a week later.”
Lillian developed an allergic reaction to the antibiotic first used to treat her. Three days after her doctors gave her an alternate medication, she started feeling better. This March Lillian was bitten by another tick, which produced the characteristic bull’s eye around the bite site. She was again successfully treated with antibiotics.
Last year, Nancy Fox, Ph.D, a Lyme disease survivor, spoke to children between the ages of 5 and 15 at Greene County Department of Recreation day camps.
In July, she and her associate, Cassidy Colbert, who’s still suffering from Lyme disease symptoms, will return to day camps at Waynesburg (July 8), Carmichaels (July 10) and Mon View Park in Greensboro (July 11).
“I’ll provide information on how to prevent a tick bite and how to remove a tick properly,” she said. “Methods like burning the insect or applying Vaseline just don’t work. The T.I.C.K. method does. Using “tweezers,” “insert” them close to the skin under the tick, apply “constant” and consistent pressure, then “keep” the tick in a plastic bag and take it to a doctor for testing and possible treatment.”
Last year, Fox founded the Lyme Education Awareness Foundation (LEAF) Program which serves communities with onsite educational experiences to promote prevention behaviors from tick-borne diseases in children, teens and young adults.
“Recent research indicates that around 50 percent of ticks are infected with one or more diseases,” Fox said. “Even though deer get a bad rap as carriers, the biggest carrier of ticks is the white-footed mouse.”
As the old adage says, prevention is often the best cure. The CDC offers the following tick prevention advice:
Before you go outdoors, know where to expect ticks. They live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas, and even on animals. Many people get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood. Always walk on the center of trails.
Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, which can remain protective through several washings. Alternatively, you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. The EPA’s helpful search tool, toolExternal, can help you find the product that best suits your needs. Always follow product instructions.
Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months old and do not use products containing OLE or PMD on children under 3 years old.
After you come indoors, check your body, pets and clothing for ticks. Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed. If the clothes require washing first, use hot water as cold and medium temperature water will not kill ticks.
Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tick-borne diseases. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check of in the following places: under the arms, in and around the ears, inside belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs and around the waist.