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In a Heartbeat

Q&A: Pennsylvania has the most Lyme disease cases — how do you prevent it?

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of reported cases of Lyme disease, and the number of cases continues to grow , so we asked Allegheny Health Network infectious disease specialist Dr. Tom Walsh for some more details about the illness.

The causative agent of Lyme disease is the bacterium Borrelia borgdorferi and it is spread through the bite of infected Ixodes scapularis ticks, commonly known as deer ticks or blacklegged ticks in the northeast.

Q: How long must a tick be embedded to cause Lyme disease?

A: These ticks can attach to any part of the body, but have a penchant for biting in more difficult to see locations such as the groin, scalp, and arm pits. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the tick must be attached for at least 36 to 48 hours before it is able to transmit the Lyme bacterium to a person. Ticks embedded for less than 36 hours are remarkably unlikely to cause Lyme disease.

Q: If bitten by a deer tick and it is embedded for more than 36 hours, what can be done to prevent the development of Lyme disease?

A: If a deer tick has been attached for more than 36 hours, a one-time prophylactic dose of doxycycline 200mg has been proven to be very effective for adults and children 8 years of age and older if the prophylaxis is begun within 72 hours of tick removal.

Q: Is a Lyme vaccine on the way?

A: New approaches to Lyme vaccine development are underway. Several companies are utilizing different strategies to produce an effective Lyme disease vaccine, but these are all likely several years away. However, the initial data is quite promising.

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