PITTSBURGH - Jennifer Frederick won't forget the time she found her son at home and realized something was wrong.
"I came home from work and he was lethargic. I couldn't get him up," the Wexford woman said.
Her teenage son has Lyme disease. We ran into Jennifer while she walked at North Park. She said her son is doing OK now, but she is constantly aware of the risk of a tick bite.
There's debate over whether this year will be a bad tick season, but it's already bad enough for the state health department to issue an alert about steady increases in tick bite-related visits to emergency departments. We spoke to a doctor at UPMC Children's Hospital, where they are getting calls all the time about ticks.
"Reports of tick bites have become as epidemic as Lyme disease for us," said Dr. Andy Nowalk, clinical director of infectious diseases at UPMC Children's Hospital. "We get tons of tons of calls about not just managing Lyme disease but people calling in to say, 'My child got bitten by a tick what do I do?'"
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Nowalk says Children's Hospital saw more than 1,500 cases of Lyme last year.
"We've had to develop whole protocols about what to do about all the tick bites we've been seeing," he said.
Pennsylvania, by far, leads the country in Lyme disease cases. From the most recent numbers available from the CDC, there were more than 9,000 confirmed cases in 2017. About a third of those cases were in our area.
To make matters even worse, there's a new tick in town that goes by the name Asian long-horned tick.
"It just kind of came out of nowhere, so all of a sudden they are everywhere," said Michael Skvarla, an entomologist at Penn State University.
Channel 11 traveled to Penn State where entomologists are studying the Asian long-horned tick. It's new to the U.S. and has popped up in eight states, including Pennsylvania. The bug can reproduce without a mate, and rather quickly.
"They do bite people, though not as often as other mammals, so the biggest issue is going to be livestock," he said.
That doesn't stop people from worrying about their pets. We spoke to veterinarian Lawrence Gerson in Point Breeze.
"Clients are certainly aware of Lyme disease," Gerson said. "It's something that we talk about every visit."
Gerson says he educates owners on flea and tick medication and the possibility of vaccinating pets against ticks. The vaccine can be pricey, but lifesaving.
"It's really hard to tell somebody your dog is going to die for disease that we could have prevented with medication and vaccination," he said.
So what do you do if you find a tick on you or your pet?
The CDC recommends these steps to remove a tick:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly 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.
The first step to preventing tick bites is knowing where they live. Ticks like grassy, bushy or wooded areas. Others live on animals. You can get a bite in your own backyard. Experts recommend using a tick repellent with DEET on your skin and clothes, and checking your skin and clothes for any ticks once you head indoors. They say to check your pets as well. You should shower within two hours of a trip into a wooded area to keep ticks from sticking to your body.
The Pennsylvania Health Department lists these as the symptoms of Lyme disease that can appear in the first three to 30 days after a tick bite:
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Skin rash that looks like a bull's eye
- Occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected persons
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