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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Allegheny County Health Department Warns Of Lyme Disease Spike

AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File

Cases of Lyme disease are on the rise in Allegheny County, with a more than 40-fold increase in a little over a decade.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACDH) is warning the public of this rise and offering preventive tips.

“Our department, this year, investigated all laboratory tests that we received to determine whether these were actual cases,” said ACHD Director Karen Hacker. “And we are now reporting and verifying 822 cases in 2014.”

Hacker said only 20 cases were reported throughout the county in 2003.

“We didn’t really have much Lyme disease here in western Pennsylvania at all,” she said.

Karen Murphy, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said 2014 is the first year in which cases of Lyme disease have been reported in every single county, with nearly 7,000 cases state-wide.

Lyme disease is carried by certain deer ticks, and the symptoms include flu-like symptoms and a rash that “looks like a big target,” according to Hacker. If detected early, the disease is treatable with antibiotics.

Although the disease is now more common than ever, Murphy said the disease and its consequences are still avoidable.

“This is a preventable disease,” Murphy said. “When you are bitten by a tick, and you realize that there’s a potential, seeing your physician and really seeking early guidance and treatment is critically important.”

Murphy said surveillance is the most important aspect of preventing the disease. Other preventative measures include wearing long sleeves and pants and applying insect repellent with diethyltoluamide (DEET) before doing outdoor activities.

Hacker said the recent rise in Lyme disease is related to the fact that the blacklegged ticks are moving into new territory.

Bill Todaro, the resident entomologist for the ACHD, said they move around by latching onto deer and other animals.

“The ticks move around not just on deer, but they’re on birds,” Todaro said. “So a bird lands on your bird feeder and the ticks falls off, you have ticks in your backyard now. They’re on raccoons, woodchucks, everything that’s out there, this tick feeds on that. And that’s how it’s spread.”

Animals can also catch Lyme disease from ticks, but the disease cannot be spread among humans or animals, according to Hacker.

“There’s nothing shown that if your dog has Lyme disease it’s going to give it to you,” she said. “This is from the tick bite.”