Deer ticks, which can spread Lyme disease to humans, have already been found this spring in wooded areas around Erie.
The long, snowy winter of Erie County did not appear to reduce the number of ticks found in forested areas of Presque Isle State Park to Platea.
A recent warm-up sent people to the Erie County Health Department with ticks they had found on their clothes and, in some cases, attached to their bodies.
"Every time it gets a little hot, up to at least 40 degrees, we get people who bring ticks for identification and calls from people who say they've been bitten by a tic," said Breanna Adams, a specialist in environmental protection Erie County Health Department. "This winter has not been different."
Tick control in northwestern Pennsylvania is a public health problem because deer ticks are the most common form of transmission of Lyme disease to humans in this part of the country. Deer ticks transmit the bacterial disease and can transmit it to humans when they bite and feed on them.
The number of residents of Erie County diagnosed with Lyme disease has increased significantly in recent years, the health department reported. It has increased from 71 cases in 2015 to 190 in 2016 before falling to 148 in 2017.
"I think there are more people with Lyme disease than five or ten years ago," said Nancy Weissbach, MD, an infectious specialist in diseases with Saint Vincent Hospital. "It's not just that more people with the disease are being diagnosed."
Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms and a characteristic porthole rash during its initial phase. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause facial paralysis, severe headaches and stiff neck, joint pain, heart problems and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
It is important that someone with Lyme disease receive treatment as soon as signs of the disease manifest, Weissbach said. The treatment usually consists of oral antibiotics taken for 10 to 21 days.
"Lyme disease is easily treated during the initial phase," Weissbach said. "It can still be treated later, but you may need antibiotics intravenously, and you may have some residual symptoms even if the bacteria is no longer in the body."
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid the deer tick biting. It's not as easy as it used to be since infected ticks spread from Presque Isle, where they first discovered in this region about 30 years ago, to forests and fields throughout northwest Pennsylvania.
Ticks prefer dark, damp places near the ground level, often cling to leaves or grass blades.
"Typically, they live in the leaf litter and brushy areas where a wooded area meets a field," Adams said. "They also like the sides of the trails that are a bit covered, in Presque Isle, they are along the trails, not on the beaches."
Ray Bierbower, an environmental education specialist in the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, spends a lot of time on Presque Isle trails and trails.
Know what to do to avoid tick bites when you go to the trails.
"I put my pants legs in my socks, so ticks can not enter and climb my leg," Bierbower said. "I treat my clothes with permethrin, which is ideal to keep ticks out of you, you can also use it on your equipment and your store."
Permethrin lasts up to six washes but should not be sprayed directly on the skin. The use of insect repellents with DEET on exposed skin is recommended.
Once Bierbower returns from a walk, he takes off all his clothes and puts them in the dryer to kill any ticks. Then he takes a shower and inspects his body.
"I make sure to check the hot spots: the armpits, the groin and the scalp," Bierbower said.
If a mark is found, Bierbower first checks to see if it is attached to his body. Attached ticks should be removed with tweezers, not using petroleum jelly or any other household remedy.
"Get as close as possible to the head of the tick with the tweezers and pull it out the way it entered the skin," Bierbower said. "Make sure you do not leave your head there."
Save the tick by placing it in a bag and storing it in the freezer. You can take the brand to the health department for identification.
If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms in the next 10 days, call your doctor, Weissbach said.
"Do not ignore the symptoms," Weissbach said. "Get tested and, if you have Lyme disease, get treated."
You can reach David Bruce by calling 870-1736 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNbruce.