How risky are ticks in Pennsylvania? Survey hopes to find out |

How risky are ticks in Pennsylvania? Survey hopes to find out

Patrick Varine
Lyle Buss/University of Florida
The American dog tick is another vector for disease in Pennsylvania.
Tribune-Review file
Black-legged ticks are the top vectors for Lyme disease in Pennsylvania, according to the state health department
Maine Medical Center Research Institute
The groundhog tick.
Maine Medical Center Research Institute
The American dog tick.
Maine Medical Center Research Institute
The Lone Star tick.

Jesy Murcko spent Saturday clearing brush from a hillside at her family’s camp in the Allegheny National Forest, so she wasn’t surprised to find a tick on her.

She wasn’t crazy, however, about finding two ticks on her 2-year-old son Wade, who was playing in short grass near the woods most of the day.

“We stopped working around 4 or 5 p.m. and got them off Wade around 9 p.m., so they were probably on him for a few hours,” said Murcko, of New Brighton.

As someone who grew up playing in the woods, Murcko recognizes that ticks are just a part of life in Western Pennsylvania.

“Also, being a veterinarian tech, I know you can get them anywhere, not just in the woods,” she said. “Wade had one when he was around 1 year old, I believe.”

Being proactive and checking for ticks after being outdoors is the best way to prevent tick-borne illnesses. State environmental officials this spring started a five-year “environmental surveillance” of ticks to assess the risk they pose across Pennsylvania.

The survey is taking place in every county to track ticks’ habitats, life stages and peak activity, and to test them for human pathogenic diseases.

Officials in 38 counties, including Westmoreland and Allegheny, also are conducting a specific survey of nymph-stage blacklegged ticks — the primary vector of Lyme disease in the state.

That survey has begun, according to Beth Rementer, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Rementer cautioned that ticks aren’t just in the woods.

“They’re in parks, on playgrounds and on hikes,” Rementer said. “Taking the few extra steps while you’re outside enjoying the outdoors is very important as we head into peak tick season.”

Murcko said that even though she’s been dealing with ticks for years, she still worries for her two boys.

“What if I miss one? Or I find it too late and my son has Lyme disease for the rest of his life?” she said. “But I also know being aware and checking can hopefully extremely decrease that possibility. As a mom, though, you always worry about your kids.”

This past fall and winter, state surveillance of ticks focused on analyzing adult blacklegged ticks to try and identify shifts in their habitats in public places like parks, playgrounds and recreational fields.

Spring and summer surveillance will focus on collecting immature blacklegged ticks, adult American dog ticks (which transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia) and adult Lone star ticks (which transmit ehrlichiosis in addition to tularemia). In Harrisburg on Thursday, Dr. Rachel Levine, the state Health Department secretary, will demonstrate how tick collection will take place at the Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area.

Since July 2018, DEP officials have collected more than 3,600 adult blacklegged ticks for testing. The focus now will shift to the youngsters.

“The nymphal stage of the blacklegged tick’s lifespan overlaps with people enjoying the outdoors in the spring and summer,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “Tracking and testing them at this stage is extremely important because it will allow us to more accurately pinpoint when and where risk of human illness is most prevalent and help prevent cases of Lyme disease in the future.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: News | Pennsylvania | Top Stories
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.