Pennsylvania had the most reported cases of Lyme disease in the country last year, but Fayette County has among the fewest cases in the state.
The 11 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the county were a small fraction of the 5,754 cases confirmed in the state last year, according to statistics from the state Department of Health.
Statistics from the health department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vary. Figures from the health department said there were 5,028 cases in 2012, but the CDC reported the state had 5,033 confirmed cases and 887 probable cases that year.
A bacteria spread by the bite of an infected deer tick, Lyme disease is treated with oral antibiotics and clears up in a few weeks if diagnosed quickly. If left untreated, infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system, according to the CDC.
The 11 cases in the county last year were the most since nine cases were confirmed in 2003. The county has had at least four cases a year since 1999.
Signs of the recent increase has been noticeable at Highlands Hospital in Connellsville.
“Toward the end of last summer and so far this summer, we’ve seen more people come in for the testing than ever before. The ticks just seem to be in high numbers this year,” said Erin Fronczek, laboratory manager at the hospital.
A patient came in two weeks ago with the most common symptom of Lyme disease: a rash in the shape of a bull’s-eye around, she said.
“I actually saw a patient that had all the classic signs and symptoms, a bull’s-eye rash on her back and red rashes around the joints, and sore joints.,” Fronczek said.
The patient reported being sick for a few weeks, but didn’t know the cause.
“She wasn’t aware she had a tick bite. She just had symptoms and didn’t feel good,” Fronczek said.
All confirmed cases are reported to the health department, she said.
The bull’s-eye rash appears on 85 percent of people who contract the disease from tick bites, said Wes Culp, deputy press secretary for the health department.
Fever, fatigue, nausea, headache, lethargy, muscle and joint pain and the rash are the most common symptoms of the disease, Culp said.
The disease usually spreads once the tick has been attached for 36 hours and symptoms typically appear seven to 14 days after a bite, Culp said.
“If you see a tick on you, remove it as soon as possible,” Culp said.
Fronczek recommends that bite victims see a doctor to have an attached tick removed. People who remove one themselves risk leaving the tick’s head attached.
“It’s not the tick. It’s the bacteria in the tick’s mouth that carries the disease,” Fronczek said. “If you do have a tick on you, you don’t want to grab it and rip it off. See a doctor to do it correctly.”
Using a lighter or match to get the tick to let go or fall off could make the tick dig in further and leaving the head in the skin could cause an infection, she said.
“You always want to see a doctor to make sure it’s gone and that there are no other parts left on the skin,” Fronczek said.
Avoiding contact with ticks by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using insect repellent are the best ways to avoid ticks and Lyme disease.
The health department recommends checking for ticks or showering within two hours of being outside.
The CDC said 95 percent of Lyme disease cases occur in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“The CDC has reported Pennsylvania has the highest incidence of Lyme disease,” Culp said.
Between 3,300 and 5,700 cases have been confirmed in Pennsylvania every year since 2003, according to the CDC.
Chester County had 489, the most reported cases in the state last year, according to the health department. Other leading counties include Bucks (337), Butler (332), Clearfield (308), Montgomery (301) and Armstrong (232).
Greene County had less than four cases, Westmoreland County had 157 and Washington County had 20 last year.
A state law that went into effect in June is aimed a raising awareness of Lyme disease and increasing prevention efforts.
The law creates a task force at the health department to educate the public about the disease and related tick-borne illnesses and collaborate with other key agencies.