Outdoors: New tick disease becoming common in Pennsylvania

I had spent the morning tending to my 30 or so maple taps, collecting the sap to boil into syrup. When the fire and propane burners were doing their thing, I headed in for a cup of coffee. It was then I felt a faint itch on my back and when I scratched it, I knew right away I had picked up a little hitchhiker.

While it may have been a small tick, it was buried pretty deep. It took me a few minutes to find my favorite tick removal tool, the TickTwister. Once this little crowbar looking device is slide between the tick and your skin, a few spins is all it takes to remove the entire tick, head and all.

I judged that the tick had only been on me for several hours, so I wasn’t too worried about Lyme disease. Nevertheless, the tick went into a plastic sandwich bag which was labeled with my name and date. The little bugger will spend the next month or so in the freezer in case I show any symptoms.I usually end up removing a dozen or so ticks every year and know the routine.

Then, a couple of days later a news release appeared on my computer from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission concerning a new tick disease that was becoming more common in the state. It seems anyone who spends time in the outdoors will need to up their tick prevention game.

Outdoors: New tick disease becoming common in Pennsylvania

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, in addition to Lyme disease being found in all 67 counties, there is an increase of the rare but dangerous Deer Tick Virus.

Deer Tick Virus has been verified in 15 counties, with three locations where the infection rate in ticks is over 80%. The virus was found at its highest infection rate ever (92%) this year at Lawrence Township Recreation Park in Clearfield County. The public fishing areas at Fisherman’s Paradise in Centre County and Iroquois Trail near Tunkhannock in Wyoming County also showed infection rates according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Tick Surveillance and Testing Program.

Unlike Lyme disease which can take more than 12 hours to transfer from tick to human, the Deer Tick Virus can be transferred within 15 minutes of a tick bite. The virus can cause encephalitis or meningitis and result in hospitalization. The death rate of this virus is about 12 percent in people with the severe form of the disease.

Prevention is the best course of action. Use tick repellents containing permethrin on clothing and EPA-registered insect repellents such as DEET to exposed skin before heading out. Reapply as needed according to product label instructions. Wear light-colored clothing and tuck shirts into pants, and pants into socks. Make sure to treat these areas thoroughly. Upon returning home, take a shower, and wash your clothing, drying on high heat. Check your body over for ticks and don’t forget about your pets.

While tick-borne diseases are becoming more prevalent, you don’t need to be scared or avoid your favorite outdoor past times. You are just going to need to take extra precautions.

Mike Barcaskey can be reached at mikebarcaskey@outlook.com.