If personal experience and reader reports are reliable indicators, this summer could be a bad one for ticks and Lyme disease in Western Pennsylvania. Since early April, I've removed countless ticks from my clothing. Likewise, I've heard from many readers since late winter who have returned from hunting trips with dogs covered with ticks.
Effective tick prevention medications for dogs are readily available from veterinarians. I can't remember the last time I removed an attached tick from my dog.
We humans, on the other hand, must be more proactive and check for ticks after every outdoor adventure. Fortunately, blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis, formerly called deer ticks) must be attached for at least 24 to 48 hours for the Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) to be transmitted.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. In 2011, there were 4,739 confirmed cases in Pennsylvania and 24,364 nationwide. Though Lyme disease can be prevented by vaccination, it is prohibitively expensive and less than 100 percent effective.
The best treatment for Lyme disease is prevention. Avoid tall grass and dense woody vegetation. Wear a 20 to 30 percent DEET-based repellent on clothes and exposed skin. Or wear clothing treated with long-lasting tick repellents. Tuck pant legs into socks and wrap in duct tape. Do frequent tick checks, even while in your own backyard.
If you find an attached tick, here's advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov). Do not squeeze the tick and pull it out with your fingers. This will only force possibly contaminated blood into the bite site.
Instead, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. If the mouthparts break off, remove them with the tweezers.
Then clean the area with rubbing alcohol and soap and water.
If a few days later, you find a telltale bull's-eye rash or develop symptoms such as chills, fever, headache, achy muscles, swollen lymph nodes and/or fatigue, see a physician.
Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.comw and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.