Fawn officials among 6 Lyme disease victims

| Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 7:00 a.m.

At least six people, many of them Fawn township officials, have been diagnosed with Lyme disease, all within the past several weeks, a township supervisor said.

Among them are two township supervisors, a road crew worker, a former road crew employee and his wife, and the wife of a police officer who lives in Frazer, said David Montanari, the supervisors' chairman.

The township canceled Tuesday's supervisors meeting because some are ill, and others are out of town, officials said.

Montanari said he recently underwent tests to confirm whether he has the illness.

“I have three weeks in this now — high fever, body aches,” he said. “I thought it was the flu. You dismiss it because that's just what you do.”

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused from a deer tick bite.

It typically causes a bull's- eye rash at the bite site, followed by flu-like symptoms — fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, joint pain and fatigue.

Lyme disease usually is treated with antibiotics.

Deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed and are typically found in high brush and wooded areas.

Dr. Ron Voorhees, acting director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said given the significant rise in the number of ticks, he's not all that surprised at six cases in a small town like Fawn.

At this point, it's not unusual, especially given Fawn's rural setting, he said.

“It would have been surprising a year ago, but at this point, we know we have more here,” he said. “It's up significantly from last year. We're having more ticks in the area and of the kind that carry Lyme disease.”

Voorhees said the county has documented 167 Lyme disease cases so far this year — that's more than all of 2012 — and the season is just getting started.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks infectious diseases such as Lyme, but a spokeswoman there said the agency wouldn't step in unless the local health department requests it.

Dr. Andrew Nowalk, an expert in Lyme disease and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said the disease has become an “epidemic” in the area. It previously wasn't as common here as in eastern Pennsylvania.

“What we've seen recently is that Lyme disease is becoming unbelievably common in our area, especially in the northern area near Pittsburgh, Butler County and Kittanning. Certainly the Tarentum area is near enough to those areas.”

Between 2002 and 2004, Children's Hospital recorded about 10 to 15 cases a year, Nowalk said.

In the past year, the hospital had almost 300 cases.

Township Supervisor Chuck Venesky said he doesn't believe there is an unusually high concentration of ticks near the municipal building.

“It's just a bad year for it according to my doctor,” said Venesky, who said he is recovering from Lyme disease. “I think there are lot more people who have it and don't know it or just don't talk about it.”

Lyme cases statewide increased by nearly 30 percent during the past five years from 3,933 in 2008 to 5,033 in 2012, according to the state Health Department.

There are other things that might impact changes in the number of incidents, said Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department.

That includes weather patterns, tick migrations and increased exposure to deer and other animals that might have the disease and spread ticks.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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