Rain or shine, cold or hot, every year is a “bad” tick year in the Lehigh Valley.Now, local researchers have a better idea which local ticks are the culprits in spreading diseases and how prevalent they are.For four years, a “tick team” of researchers at Muhlenberg College has dragged corduroy cloth over forested ground at 11 sites in the Lehigh Valley, hoping to trick ticks into thinking the cloth is friendly mice.They would stick the stuck critters into vials of alcohol, take them back to the lab and test them for Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can lead to neurological and cardiac problems if left untreated.(The Morning Call followed this process in detail last year. Listen to our podcast here.)
The team, led by biology professor Marten Edwards in conjunction with the Penn State Extension and Lehigh Valley Health Network, published their findings in the Journal of Medical Entomology. Here are the key takeaways:<b>Blacklegged ticks are the culprit, and they are the most prevalent. </b>Formerly known as “deer ticks,” these are the only ticks in the Lehigh Valley that can transmit the bacteria for Lyme disease. Of the three species found by researchers, they are by far the most common: 6,359 of the 6,398 ticks collected.<b>The babies pack the punch. </b>Blacklegged nymphs, merely the size of a poppyseed, take the lion’s share of Lyme disease transmittance. More than 20% of the 1,721 Lehigh Valley nymphs tested carry the Lyme disease bacteria.<b>Annual weather patterns did not impact tick prevalence. </b>Cold winters and rainy springs do not kill off or deter ticks. They simply bury themselves in leaf litter and wait for better conditions.<b>Lyme disease incidence among people has increased drastically over the decades. </b>In 1988, the first year the state Health Department reported Lyme disease incidence for Lehigh County, there were 1.7 reported cases per 100,000 residents. At the turn of the millennium, it peaked at 67.1 cases per 100,000 before stabilizing at 45 cases per 100,000 for about a decade. Since 2012, the incidence rate has risen sharply, last reported in 2017 at 81.5 cases per 100,000. Pennsylvania has the highest number of reported Lyme disease cases in the nation in the past decade, with 92.9 cases per 100,000 residents found in 2017.Here’s what the experts recommend:You have 24 hours to remove a tick before it begins transmitting Lyme disease. That’s a good reason to do a daily tick check as you’re stepping into the bath or shower.Permethrin-treated clothing can survive 70 wash cycles. If you’re drawn to the outdoors, consider treating your clothes with this repellent.Use a tweezer to remove ticksIf you got bit and start feeling flu-like symptoms in the summer, see a doctor.