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Enjoy the Outdoors Safely: How to Prevent Tick Bites & Lyme Disease

by Kristy Warren - June 9, 2021

As the weather warms, we’re ready to spend more time outdoors, but while we’re out enjoying these nice days, so are ticks. Tick bites become a problem when they carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and many of the ticks found in Pennsylvania carry that bacteria. PA now consistently leads the U.S. in total number of Lyme disease cases, making prevention more important than ever. Scott Kroll, a certified registered nurse practitioner with the Laurel Health Centers, sat down with Homepage to talk about how avoid tick bites and when to seek care. Whether you’re hiking, gardening, or playing in the backyard, learn how to protect yourself from ticks and what to do if you’ve been bitten.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria (borrelia burgdorferi) transmitted through the bite of a tick. If left untreated, the infection can spread through the body, affecting your heart, joints, and even your nervous system. The black-legged tick (ixodes scapularis) is responsible for most Lyme disease cases in Pennsylvania. Since the 1960s, the black-legged tick population has boomed and become the most common type of tick in PA, increasing the risk for ticks transmitting Lyme disease to people, pets, and wildlife.

How is it spread?

Ticks “quest” for their prey—swaying with their legs outstretched to attach to whatever brushes by. They are commonly found in long grass, dense woods, shrubbery, and underbrush. When attaching, ticks camouflage themselves in areas like the scalp, armpits, groin, and back of our knees to avoid easy detection. While both immature ticks (nymphs) and fully-grown adult ticks can spread the bacteria, most people are infected by nymphs. Because nymphs are so small (less than 2 mm), they are harder to see and remove, making them more likely to stay attached for the necessary 36 – 48 hours typically needed to transmit the Lyme disease-causing bacteria.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

One of the common signs of Lyme disease is the erythema migrans (EM) rash, which sometimes presents in the shape of a target or “bull’s eye.” This rash develops in 70 – 80% of Lyme disease patients, but not in everyone. Other early symptoms include worsening headaches, neck stiffness, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, new or unexplained muscle and joint aches, fever, and chills.

How can I protect myself?

Lyme-carrying ticks are found in every county in Pennsylvania, so prevention is the best protection. To prevent a tick bite, follow these steps:

  • Wear long sleeves, hats, and pants tucked into your shoes when enjoying the outdoors; if you’re concerned about long sleeves in summer heat, opt for breathable, sweat-wicking clothing designed for outdoor wear.
  • Use an insect repellant that cites repelling ticks.
  • Walk in the middle of clear trails, roads, and paths to avoid questing ticks.
  • After spending time outdoors, do a tick check on yourself and pets. Pay special attention to the hard-to-reach places ticks tend to attach like the scalp, armpits, groin, knees, neck, and ears.

Proper Tick Removal

If you do discover an attached tick, don’t panic. Being bitten by a tick doesn’t guarantee you will get Lyme disease, but it is important to act swiftly and carefully to remove a tick to reduce its likelihood of transmitting the bacteria.

To remove a tick, use tweezers or a tick-removing tool like a tick key to apply steady backward pressure and carefully remove the entire tick, including the head. Don’t twist, spin, crush, or jerk the tick during removal, as this can cause parts of the tick to break off and remain lodged in the skin. Never burn the tick with a lit match, paint it with nail polish, or attempt to suffocate the tick with petroleum jelly or alcohol. These methods can make matters worse by causing the tick to burrow further in or regurgitate the infected bacteria into the skin.

Dispose of live ticks into a sealed container with alcohol to kill the tick or flush it down the toilet. Clean the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and rubbing alcohol.

Don’t Delay Care

If you have trouble removing a tick, suspect it has been attached for longer than 36 hours, or are experiencing the Lyme symptoms described above, don’t delay seeking care. The Laurel Health Centers can aid you in safely removing a tick and evaluating your symptoms. To make an appointment with Scott Kroll, CRNP call the Wellsboro Laurel Health Center at 570-724-1010. For more information on Lyme disease and tick bite prevention, visit laurelhc.org or facebook.com/laurelhc.

Credits:

Videography: Andrew Moore
Video Editing: Ethan Chabala
Writing: Kristy Warren
Anchor: Sara Vogt
Guest(s): Scott Kroll, CNP

Produced by Vogt Media
Home Page Sponsors: Laurel Health Centers