Warmer Weather Brings More Ticks, Lyme Disease Diagnoses
Lyme disease cases continue to climb in Luzerne County as warmer winters take less of a toll of ticks, a frequent carrier of the painful and debilitating ailment.
“It has not been cold enough to get a sizeable decrease in ticks,’’ said Michele Cassetori, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Misericordia University. She leads the Lyme Disease Support Group that meets at the college.
Cassetori said ticks have a life cycle of two to three years and perhaps only 20 percent of ticks are killed by cold weather.
Luzerne County reported 168 cases in 2016, compared to 118 in 2015. The 2017 numbers should be reported shortly, Cassetori said, and the Pennsylvania Lyme Resource Network is hoping for faster reporting of numbers in the future.
Lyme is an insidious disease and the situation is even worse in other Pennsylvania counties, including the warmer southeastern counties. Chester County reported more than 10,000 cases in 2016; Bucks County, more than 8,000 and Montgomery County, more than 7,000.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates there may be 10 times the number of reported cases. The 100-plus symptoms mimic other ailments. Those symptoms can include flu-like illness, stiff neck, swollen glands, high fever, sore throat, aches, pains and fatigue. Multiple organs and systems in the body can be impacted.
“People do not realize the dangers when they go outdoors unprotected,’’ Cassetori said at the most recent support group session. “As we head into the spring season, people wear the proper clothing, apply insect repellents and do body checks,’’ she said.
The Lyme Network suggests wearing light clothing, long pants, socks and proper shoes treated with permethrin. Conventional and organic-based pesticides are recommended and those coming indoors should check their bodies for ticks and then shower immediately. Check your pets also, the network says.
Lyme Disease is the No. 1 vector borne disease in the U.S. and Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state with about 100,000 new cases annually, 25 percent of whom are children. Lyme exists in all 50 states.
Lyme Disease if most often caused by the bite of a tick. The disease is named after the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first reported in 1975. An individual may not be aware of the bite for some time, especially when a red “bull’s-eye’’ rash does not appear.
Cassetori announced a Town Hall meeting will be held March 21 at Central Penn College in Cumberland County on Senate Bill 100 that addresses Lyme disease.
The ongoing debate over diagnosis of Lyme, treatment protocols and hesitation of some insurance companies to pay for treatment prompted legislation that protects doctors and requires insurance companies to pay for all prescribed Lyme disease treatment.
Cassetori said it can be an “enormous challenge’’ for doctors to tackle Lyme Disease. “It is complex, it is intimidating,’’ she said.
Insurance companies can deny payment for long-term treatment, relying on infectious disease guidelines that are no longer in effect, according to families of those infected with Lyme.
Senate Bill 100 is in the Insurance and Banking Committee. The town hall will be held by state Sen. Mike Regan, R-York County, and state Rep. Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland County.
Many Lyme disease patients and some doctors believe dated guidelines have caused unnecessary suffering because most physicians follow the mainstream rules and don’t properly treat the tick-borne disease, which can lead to arthritis, meningitis and other serious illnesses. Research into the bacterial spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, that causes Lyme, may have links to Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease.
Cassetori said one positive aspect of SB 100 would be faster reporting of Lyme numbers.
The support group meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 in Huntzinger Room 218 of Sandy and Marlene Insalaco Hall on the Misericordia campus. For information, visit www.palyme.org.
The third annual Pennsylvania Lyme Patient Conference is May 4 at the Monroeville Convention Center,. Tickets are $45 (early bird price) and lunch is provided.
Keynote speaker is Dr. Kenneth A. Bock, MD, a certified clinical nutrition specialist.
To register, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/pa-lyme-2019-patient-symposium-tickets.