Health experts in Allegheny County say reports of Lyme disease are high across western Pennsylvania -- doctors told Channel 11 they are testing patients daily for the disease.
But they also say, within the last decade, the number of cases has increased dramatically, especially in children.
“Probably 10, 12 years ago, we hardly had any Lyme disease in this county, and now we have hundreds of cases per year,” said Kristen Mertz, a medical epidemiologist with the Allegheny County Health Department. “So we really have a huge epidemic of Lyme disease in Allegheny County.”
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of a black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick.
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“You can't get it at the grocery store or at the gym. Your kids can't pick it up in school. You really have to be bitten by a deer tick and the tick needs to be attached for hours,” said Dr. Brian Campfield, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.
In a recently published paper, Campfield and his co-authors found cases of pediatric Lyme disease dramatically increased from 2003-13.
From, 2003-05 there were five confirmed cases of pediatric Lyme disease in western Pennsylvania. In 2013, there were 285.
"We really don't know why we're seeing more cases of Lyme disease, but we do know the habitat of the ticks has expanded throughout the U.S. and North America," Campfield said.
So what can you do to keep you and your children safe?
If you're outside in the woods or a park, experts suggest you limit your amount of exposed skin, and use a repellent spray with DEET to keep ticks away.
If you do pick up a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to remove it and talk to your doctor.
Cox Media Group