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Pennsylvania again leads nation in Lyme disease cases

Ben Schmitt
| Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, 8:18 p.m.
Bill Todaro, a medical entomologist with the Allegheny County Health Department, sorts through a selection of deer tick specimens inside his office in the Strip District. Todaro estimates that 50 percent of ticks in the 'nymph' stage in the eastern parts of the country are infected with Lyme Disease.
JC Schisler
Bill Todaro, a medical entomologist with the Allegheny County Health Department, sorts through a selection of deer tick specimens inside his office in the Strip District. Todaro estimates that 50 percent of ticks in the 'nymph' stage in the eastern parts of the country are infected with Lyme Disease.
Pictured are deer tick samples collected from Monroeville in June 2010. The smallest are nymphs and are the most infective. They feed on mice and pick up the Lyme disease bacteria from them. The medium-size ticks are in the adult phase, while the largest are engorged adults that have fed on a host.
JC Schisler
Pictured are deer tick samples collected from Monroeville in June 2010. The smallest are nymphs and are the most infective. They feed on mice and pick up the Lyme disease bacteria from them. The medium-size ticks are in the adult phase, while the largest are engorged adults that have fed on a host.
A bottle of Lyme disease vaccine is shown next to a deer tick at Good Shepherd Veterinary Hospital in Mars on Monday, April 15, 2013.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
A bottle of Lyme disease vaccine is shown next to a deer tick at Good Shepherd Veterinary Hospital in Mars on Monday, April 15, 2013.

Pennsylvania will once again lead the nation this year in Lyme disease cases, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

And it's not even close.

In 2016, there have been 12,092 reported cases of the tick-borne disease in the state through Dec. 24. That's triple the amount of the runner-up, New York, which had 4,002 cases, followed by New Jersey with 3,850.

There were about 9,000 cases in Pennsylvania in 2015, according to the CDC.

A state Department of Health spokeswoman cautioned that the 2016 figures aren't finalized yet, but they still highlight the need for people to protect themselves from ticks, especially during warmer months.

"It's clearly an issue in Pennsylvania," said April Hutcheson of the Department of Health. "If you suspect you have Lyme disease, catching it early is really essential."

Churchill resident Chris Luedde suspects he contracted Lyme disease over the summer during frequent outdoor walks with this black Labrador Retriever. On several occasions he pulled ticks off the dog.

One morning he noticed several circular rashes with red rings on his body. A subsequent blood test confirmed Lyme disease, and a doctor prescribed a 21-day course of antibiotics that staved off any major symptoms.

"Fortunately, I caught it early," Luedde, 43, said. "I didn't experience any of the flu symptoms that you hear about. I know somebody else who didn't catch it early and suffered symptoms for a long time."

Common symptoms include a fever, chills, joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, headache and fatigue and sometimes a rash that looks like a bull's-eye from the tick bite. Most people recover with antibiotic treatment. If untreated, the infection can lead to arthritis and other severe problems. Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at UPMC, attributed Pennsylvania's high occurrence of Lyme disease to several factors.

"Pennsylvania is home to the requisite tick and the small mammal species that serve as a reservoir for the bacteria," he said. "Many people in Pennsylvania have exposure to these ticks through activities that bring them into wooded areas; and physicians are especially attuned to the risk of Lyme disease so testing has become almost routine in those with symptoms that could be attributed to Lyme disease."

Each year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to CDC. However, the CDC estimates the total number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease could exceed 300,000 annually.

"If you look at entire Northeast region, there are high levels of ticks in the area and we are becoming more and more aware of Lyme disease transmission and the need for testing," Hutcheson said. "It's the nature of where we live and our environment."

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