Op-ed: Lyme Disease Continues to Pose a Serious Threat

Chances are, you know a relative or friend with Lyme disease. Sometimes, months or even years pass before you know you’re infected with the tick-borne illness, and the effects of delayed treatment can be catastrophic.

Lyme disease latches onto a victim and does not release its grasp, similar to the deer ticks that transmit the ailment. Once an individual is infected, there is no known cure.

The most recent tick surveillance study found the presence of Lyme in ticks in all 67 state counties. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is considered the “bull’s-eye” for Lyme disease, as we are the nation’s leader in cases. It is a regrettable distinction that I would like to change.

Funding to prevent the spread of Lyme disease was a key part of a $32.7 billion 2018-2019 spending plan approved in June by Pennsylvania lawmakers. The budget allocates $2.5 million to support Lyme disease awareness, prevention and surveillance.

The funding will be used to hire staff to implement the Lyme disease task force’s 18 recommendations; enhance and build a more robust Lyme disease prevention and education program; conduct statewide environmental surveys; and improve participation in tick-borne disease surveillance with providers and local health departments.

The funding allocated in the 2018-2019 spending plan is just a start, but it is my hope that this financing becomes a recurring part of our budgeting process. I look forward to working with the Department of Health as this new program progresses, for the betterment of all Pennsylvanians.

As we work to better identify, prevent and treat Lyme disease, there are steps every state resident can take to minimize the risks posed by this terrible affliction.

If you discover a tick quickly, experts believe time is on your side, because the disease is transmitted only after many hours of feeding. After you identify the tick, removing it safely is essential. Tweezers are recommended, but sometimes it isn’t that easy.

A first line of defense is recognizing Lyme disease indicators. Early symptoms include a rash, and some appear as a bull’s-eye. Common symptoms include fever, chills, joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fatigue and rashes. Antibiotics help with recovery, but when untreated, the infection can lead to arthritis and other severe problems.

Research has indicated that half the populace does not take proper steps to protect themselves against tick bites, especially during warm weather.

For example, outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to wear long clothing that covers the skin, and to use insect repellant. Walk in the middle of trails, avoid leaning against trees and sitting on logs, and think twice before going outside while barefoot. Long-sleeve shirts and pants – tucked into socks – are recommended. Clothes should be light-colored so ticks can be easily spotted.

For more information, a good resource is the American Lyme disease foundation website: www.aldf.com. Additionally, I have brochures available at my district offices in Chambersburg, Hanover and Gettysburg.

CONTACT:  Scot Pitzer (717) 787-4651; spitzer@pasen.gov.