Lyme disease has seen a dramatic increase across the state of West Virginia in recent years. According to data from the Department of Health and Human Resources, there were 97 reported cases of Lyme disease for the state just six years ago in 2012. By the end of 2017, that number had increased to a startling 748 cases. The state is seeing most increases in the Northern and Eastern panhandles. However, according to Pocahontas Memorial Hospital officials and the Pocahontas County Health Department, Lyme disease is also increasing here in our own county.
Only one confirmed case of Lyme disease in Pocahontas County is on the state record for a 14- year stretch from 2000-2014. To date for the year 2018, however, 10 cases of suspected Lyme disease have been investigated in the county. Of these, eight cases met the “case definition” for having Lyme disease.
County Health Nurse Jessica Shinaberry further explains that of the eight, six tested positive and two tested probable. Two of the 10 were negative for the disease.
This is already an increase over 2017, as only nine total cases were investigated for the entire year.
Lyme disease is an illness that is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick. Peak season for ticks, and thus for Lyme disease, is May through November, so officials expect additional cases to be reported through the end of the year.
There are different ticks that are carriers for Lyme disease but in our area, it is the deer tick that causes infection. Deer ticks are found in grassy or woodland areas and prefer areas where moisture is present. A deer tick bite is painless so most people do not realize that they have been bitten.
In about 50 percent of cases, there is a characteristic rash or lesion that appears. It looks like an expanding red ring (bull’s eye) with alternating light and dark rings. The rash can begin a few days to a few weeks after the bite of an infected tick. Often at the same time as the rash develops, flu-like symptoms may appear with headache, stiff neck, muscle aches, joint pain, fever and fatigue. It is important to remember that some people with Lyme disease may only experience flu-like symptoms and never develop a rash or bull’s eye.
You should seek prompt medical attention if any of these symptoms appear, especially after being bitten by a tick or traveling to an area where deer ticks are common.
If the early symptoms are not treated, more serious health problems can develop. The later symptoms of Lyme disease may take months or years to appear, but can be chronic and quite severe. Muscle and joint pain, numbness, tingling, severe pain, incapacitating fatigue, and depression can occur. Chronic Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose because it mimics other diseases and can take so long to develop.
People treated with the appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease will usually recover rapidly and completely. Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend diagnosing Lyme disease with a blood sample using a two-step process. The first step is known as an “EIA” (enzyme immunoassay). If this first step is negative, no further testing of the specimen is recommended. If the first step is positive or indeterminate, the second step, called an immunoblot test, or “Western blot” test, should be performed. Results are considered positive only if the EIA and the immunoblot are both positive.
“Education is the first step in preventing Lyme disease and tick bites,” PMH Emergency Department Director Dr. Hanibal Mahdi said.
Use precautions when outdoors: apply repellents, check clothing often for ticks, stay in the middle of trails, clear brush from around your home, keep grassy areas mown, remove clothes immediately when returning home and place in washer with hot water, and perform daily tick checks on yourself, your pets and your children during peak season if time is spent outdoors.
If a tick is found, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp and pull upward to remove the tick. Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
More awareness among medical providers and more accurate and advanced tests for Lyme disease have made it easier than ever to diagnose and treat the disease before it becomes chronic.
For more information on Lyme disease and tick bites, you may visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at https://www. cdc.gov/ticks/