PIKE AND WAYNE COUNTIES, PA — Despite increasing cases of confirmed Lyme disease that place Pennsylvania at the top of the heap in terms of health impacts from ticks, very little tracking of tick populations in the state is occurring.
Because ticks are vectors for diseases such as Lyme, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, growing tick populations could have serious public health implications.
Much like the pests themselves, which are ever moving upward as they climb a host to reach the rich blood supply in the head, local tick populations appear to be rising to unprecedented levels in Pike and possibly Wayne counties, as indicated by the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease.
Locally, cases of Lyme disease are being tracked by Wayne Memorial Hospital (WMH) in Honesdale. In 2011, approximately 180 samples were confirmed positive. Between January and July 2012, the Wayne Memorial Laboratory has sent 121 samples that screened positive for Lyme disease to the state for confirmation. Seventy-five percent, or about 91 have come back confirmed positive. (Additional information is available through Wayne Memorial Community Health at 570/253-8422).
Recently, a Lone Star tick, which is present in the southern part of the state but rarely seen in the Northeast, was discovered following a hike at the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s (PGC) Shohola Recreation Area in Shohola, PA.
Lone Star ticks are not known to transmit Lyme disease, but have been linked to an illness known as southern tick associated rash illness, or STARI, in the southern US, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH).
It can also transmit the bacterial infection Ehrlichiosis.
As reported on “Good Morning America” earlier this year, University of Virginia researchers are exploring a possible connection between the bite from a lone star tick and the development of an allergic reaction to meat. The three- to six-hour delayed reaction can range from hives to anaphylactic shock, according to Dr. Scott Commins, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, who has seen approximately 400 cases of the unusual allergy. The link, however, is hard to prove and the mechanism is still unknown.
Pennsylvania is already one of the leading states for the incidence of Lyme disease, which is transmitted by black-legged ticks, commonly referred to as deer ticks.
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.
For more information, visit www.portal.health.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/diseases_and_co...  and click on Lyme disease or www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme  or www.cdc.gov/lyme  or shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/13-things-ticks-wont-tell-203300759.html or www.tickencounter.org  or ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/ticks.