PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — More than 90 percent of Lyme disease comes from 12 states and Pennsylvania is one of them, but how about southwestern Pennsylvania specifically?
“Eastern Pennsylvania has lots of Lyme disease. Here in western Pennsylvania we are considered low risk, but there are, again, the ticks have been found, so it is of concern here,” says Dr. Ron Voorhees of the Allegheny County Health Department.
A map from a study in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and hygiene shows we’re in the green, meaning “low risk.” But what have doctors actually been seeing?
“It’s clear the numbers are much higher than they were maybe four or five years ago,” says Children’s Hospital pediatric infectious diseases physician Dr. Michael Green.
The map was made by collecting deer ticks from the woods and testing them for the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
Allegheny County tracks only human cases.
“We get a report of all the positive tests, and those have been going up over the last several years,” says Dr. Voorhees. “One thing we’re hoping to do this year is to actually be testing ticks themselves.”
So why, with increasing numbers here, does the map show we are low risk? For one, the ticks in the study were collected from 2004 to 2007 before the numbers were noticeably up. Also, the pattern we’re seeing could be due to greater awareness and more testing.
“Even though our numbers have gone up, we really don’t have a good way to understand yet what that really means,” Dr. Voorhees continues.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that you get from a deer tick bite. As housing plans expand into wooded areas, the likelihood of coming in contact with deer ticks increases.
“My experience would suggest that we would anticipate that the number of cases are likely to increase, until we hit a plateau. It’s not clear if we’ve reached that plateau at this time,” says Dr. Green.
The classic sign of Lyme disease is a bull’s eye rash at the tick bite. This infection can also affect the heart, brain, and joints. It can be confirmed with blood tests, and luckily, the prognosis is good if it’s recognized and treated with antibiotics.