Lyme disease cases rising in Harrison County

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By JD LONG
jim@harrisonnewsherald.com

CADIZ – As if COVID wasn’t enough to worry about, cases of Lyme disease have been rising each year and not just eastern Ohio but also in Harrison County, according to Harrison County Health Administrator Garen Rhome.

“Harrison County is truly a hotspot for black-legged “deer” ticks – along with the bacteria they sometimes carry and transmit to pets and humans,” a press release said handed out at Wednesday’s commissioner’s meeting. And another frightening aspect is the rate at which the disease is hitting the county.

“Harrison County has seen the most Lyme disease cases per capita in the entire state of Ohio from 2010 through 2019,” Rhome said through the press release. “This isn’t the tick we grew up with.”

The Harrison County Health Department has been sending warnings for the past several years now but Rhome said it is worsening as the tick population continues to move westward across the U.S. He said the number of Lyme disease cases in 2016 was just one but the number drastically jumped to 51 in one year. And in 2018 an additional 32 cases were reported and another 41 in 2019.

“Last year, 2020, saw the highest case numbers yet, with 65 reported cases of Lyme disease in Harrison County. Nearly half of those cases were reported in July of 2020,” the release said.

Rhome emphasized that the cases being reported during the summer months of June, July and August are the result of bites suffered during the spring months of April and May “when the deer ticks are just nymphs.”

He said they are nearly undetectable as they are extremely small in size and called nymphs, which are active as of right now and said they are more problematic than the black-legged adults.

“It’s important for folks to realize this is a relatively new species of tick in our area,” Rhome explained. “Ticks were mostly an annoyance and that’s what people knew about ticks.” He said the American dog ticks are still around, which were basically harmless but not these blacklegged “deer” ticks, which are very small in nature.

Rhome said early detection is crucial just like any other illness and Lyme disease is no exception.

“Early symptoms may be flu-like with headaches, fever, chills, fatigue, and joint pain. The “bullseye rash” commonly associated with Lyme only occurs in 70% of infected individuals, with some studies showing the bullseye rash appearing in only 50% for Lyme cases. And those bullseye rashes can take up to nearly one month or even more, to appear after being bitten.

Severe headaches, neck stiffness, arthritis and severe joint pain and swelling, facial palsy, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and problems with short-term memory are symptoms if the disease is left untreated.

In a graph handed out July is clearly the worst month that has put people in jeopardy and it’s been that way for the past four years by far. All four years July has been in double digits for reported cases with no other month since 2017 being above single digits.

Some of the advice on preventing being bitten by these ticks includes avoiding wooded or brushy areas and high grass and they encourage people to walk in the center of trail paths. Also, use insect repellents that are registered by the U.S. EPA “labeled for use against ticks.”

Also, examine clothing closely after coming inside and to shower preferably, within two hours and to check your entire body for ticks with a hand-held mirror. And use a fine-tipped tweezer for removing ticks.

More information includes the CDC stating around 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year but they feel the number is closer to 300,000, an astounding difference.

The full press release on tick bite avoidance and remedies here:

•Avoid wooded and brushy areas withhigh grass and leaf litter.•Walk in the center of trails.

•Take extra precautions in spring, summer and fall when ticks are most active.

•Use insect repellents registered by theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)labeled for use against ticks on exposedskin for protection that lasts several hours.Always follow the product label.Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth.

•Treatclothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin.It remains protective through several washings.Always follow the product label.Pre-treated clothing is available and may provide longer lasting protection.

•Cover up to keep ticks off your body.

•Examine clothesand petsbefore going indoors.

•Check your whole body for ticksusing a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas.Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair.

•Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to more easily find and wash off any ticks that may be crawling on you.

•Remove a biting tick using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull away from your skin with steady, even pressure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention receives reports of about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease each year. The real number, according to the agency, is closer to 300,000. Because most cases are treatable using antibiotics, health care providers often diagnose and treat patients based on symptoms and may not actually test for the disease. Complete reporting of cases would help health departments monitor trends in Lyme disease. Underreporting affects the ability of public health workers to assess risk, allocate resources and devise prevention strategies. It also makes early detection very difficult, hampering efforts to treat the condition quickly and effectively.

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