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April 19, 2014
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Tracking ticks: a lack of stats

2010 — 22,561 cases


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says Lyme disease is the nation's most common tick-borne disease with more than 22,500 confirmed cases in 2010 and as many as 7,500 other probable cases reported to the agency. Statewide, there were 3,298 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2010 in Pennsylvania.

So who is keeping track of the tick population in Pike and Wayne counties?

The PA DOH keeps statistics on the incidence of human infections with Lyme disease, but not on tick populations. According to PA DOH deputy press secretary Holli Senior, tick populations are not monitored by either DOH or the Department of Environmental Protection.

The agencies have developed an informal collaborative project to trap and test ticks at a small number of sites around the state to determine what proportion are carrying the Lyme disease bacteria. This is being done in parts of the state to examine areas of potentially emerging Lyme disease. Neither Pike nor Wayne counties are included in the study.

Steve Jacobs, Penn State University (PSU) Entomology Department spokesperson, said there is currently no active research being conducted by PSU, but plans are in the works to examine ticks collected over several decades to determine the rate of infections. Nor is the PA Game Commission tracking ticks despite the role that mammals such as mice and white-tailed deer play as hosts to ticks.

If bitten by a tick, the PA DOH advises the following: Remove the tick carefully and clean the area thoroughly. The tick should be saved so that it can be determined what type it is if symptoms develop.

Ticks are generally not tested for the presence of the Lyme disease bacterium to guide clinical decision making. This is because the tick has to be attached for some period of time (thought to be at least 24 hours) before it can transmit the infection.

Even if the tick tests positive, it does not mean the individual will contract Lyme disease and prophylactic antibiotics are not always recommended. If a rash or any other signs or symptoms consistent with Lyme disease develop over the next several weeks, the patient should see a health care provider for appropriate treatment.