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MedExpress sees surge in Lyme, tick cases in Pennsylvania

Ben Schmitt
| Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, 12:21 p.m.
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.

MedExpress urgent care centers across Pennsylvania are seeing a 20 percent increase in visits for tick bites and suspected Lyme disease so far when compared with 2016.

The surge is in line with experts' predictions that ticks would be prevalent this year throughout the region.

MedExpress has more than 40 centers in Western Pennsylvania, including Westmoreland, Allegheny, Butler and Washington counties. Nationally, MedExpress is reporting an 18 percent increase in Lyme and tick visits. The neighborhood medical provider has more than 200 centers in 17 states.

"People are more aware of Lyme, which boosts our numbers, and there are also more ticks in the region," said Dr. Angela Hollis, a MedExpress area medical director who works in Mars. "That goes back to the acorn boom a few years ago and the larger mice population."

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

Symptoms of Lyme include joint pain, fatigue, fever, a red distinctive bull's-eye skin rash, flu-like illness and swollen lymph nodes.

People contract the virus when a tick infected with the Lyme disease bacterium attaches and feeds on them.

Left untreated, Lyme can result in neurological disorders, problems with short-term memory, episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath, or heart palpitations.

Hollis said Lyme can be tricky to diagnose and not everyone presents with a telltale red bull's-seye rash.

"The majority of the people I diagnose tell me: 'I didn't know I was bitten by a tick,' " Hollis said. "If you are having strange symptoms, keep Lyme in the back of your mind as a possibility."

Overall, there were 11,443 Lyme cases in the state in 2016, close to the 12,092 unofficial total released in December by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The causative agent of Lyme disease is the bacterium Borrelia borgdorferi. It is spread through the bite of a species of ticks, commonly known as deer ticks or blacklegged ticks, in the Northeast. Deer ticks have been found in all of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.

One key in protection against Lyme disease is avoiding tick-infested habitats, including areas with tall grass or dense shrubbery. Repellents and protective clothing are also helpful, along with frequent tick checks after being outside.

Homeowners can minimize tick habitats in their yards by raking leaves, cutting grass frequently, removing weeds and removing dead plant material.

Those who find a tick on their body, or suspect they've found one, should consult a doctor.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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