Charlestown Township, Chester County, PA

 
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Lyme Disease Warning

THE COUNTY OF CHESTER
Commissioners:
Colin A. Hanna, Chairman
Karen L. Martynick
Andrew E. Dinniman
CHESTER COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT
Chester County Govt. Services Center
601 Westtown Road, Suite 290
West Chester, PA 19382-4542
(610) 344-6225
FAX: (610) 344-6727
JOHN P. MAHER, M.D., M.P.H.
County Health Director
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, October 5, 2001
News Release #33
For more information, call
(610) 344-6441
Irene Shetron, Public Health Educator
It's Still Lyme Time: Fall Precautions For Tick-borne Diseases

The Chester County Health Department wishes to remind local residents that, here in Chester County, it is still Lyme time. In fact, notes Public Health Educator Irene "Bunny" Shetron, "There is no month of the year when we do not see cases of Lyme Disease in Chester County. We live in an area with many deer, a high number of ticks, and the incidence of Lyme Disease cases reported remains among the highest in the nation". Ms. Shetron went on to say that it is crucial that residents of Chester County, and of southeastern PA, continue to protect themselves, their families, and their pets, from all ticks.
Public Health officials now know that an increasing number of diseases can be carried, and potentially transmitted, by deer ticks in the northeastern USA. In addition to the Lyme Disease spirochete, varying percentages of ticks in a number of states have been found to carry such different organisms as the bacteria responsible for Ehrlichiosis, the malaria-like parasite responsible for Babesiosis, and a virus capable of causing encephalitis.
According to Dr. John Maher, Chester County's Health Director, we know that the Babesia organism is relatively common in New England and as nearby as New Jersey. Preliminary studies have also now shown the Ehrlichia organism is already present in a small percentage of ticks here in this region. It is to be expected that as more physicians and laboratories look for these infections the reported incidence should increase. The tick encephalitis virus has so far only been reported in Vermont and Maine.
Cool autumn weather marks a return to the outdoors for many involved in recreational and home maintenance activities. It is also an especially important season to take strong precautions against tick bites. "Knowing a little about the life cycle of ticks is an important aspect of prevention", says Shetron. "Most ticks are now in their third stage of life and are considered adult ticks, having molted from their second stage as nymph ticks last spring. Although still quite small, ticks at this stage have eight legs and crawl effectively. These ticks, which might have contracted a disease-causing organism during a previous meal, now have the ability to transmit disease to their next hosts."
Since ticks do not have eyes or ears, they depend on sensors, located at the tips of their front legs to detect heat and carbon dioxide. In this fashion, ticks know when a warm-blooded animal is approaching. Ticks normally search for a blood meal anywhere from the ground level to approximately three feet. They prefer a moist, shady environment such as high grass, leaf piles, brush and shrubs and reach out and grab onto their host as they brush past. It takes them only an instant to attach themselves, and since ticks are so small, most people are unaware that they have done so.
When a tick finds a shady, dark place on the host, it will insert its mouthparts, while at the same time secreting an anesthetic-like substance to prevent the host from feeling the bite. At this time, the tick will begin its blood meal, which if left undisturbed, may take up to three days. During this feeding the transmission of disease can occur.
Ms. Shetron emphasizes that not all ticks are disease carriers and not every bite from an infected tick will cause disease. However, precaution should be taken against all ticks. Preventive measures include the following:
  • Avoid high-risk areas where ticks are most likely to be found, such as wooded areas, thick brush and tall grass.

  • Dress appropriately when doing yard work, including gardening, mowing, raking leaves; wearing lighter colored clothing allows ticks to be seen easier.

  • Tuck clothing in to create a barrier for ticks; ticks will not bite through clothing but they will crawl underneath clothing to attach to skin.

  • Use EPA approved tick repellent and follow specific directions for use.

  • Check yourself regularly for signs of ticks when engaging in outdoor work or recreation.

  • After being out of doors, inspect your entire body carefully paying special attention to the scalp, ears, underarms, waist and leg bands.

  • Check children and pets several times a day during the height of tick season, from April through November.

In the event you find an attached tick, proper technique for removal is crucial. Always use fine-point tweezers to grasp the body of the tick, lifting it up and away from the skin with firm, steady pressure. Immediately clean the bite site with alcohol and also remember to clean the tweezers. If possible, save the tick in a sealed zip lock bag with an alcohol soaked cotton ball. Record the date, the location on your body where the tick was attached, and the place where you think you acquired the tick. Contact your physician if you want the tick identified.
Early symptoms of Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Babesiosis are similar to one another and often mimic the flu. These can include headache, fever, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and usually will occur from one to three weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the individual and the disease. In many people, but not everyone, Lyme disease begins as a distinctive "bulls-eye" skin rash and can progress to more diffuse stages. In contrast, Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis cause no rash. Antibiotics can be effective in treating these infections and fewer complications occur with early treatment. However, accurate diagnosis is important since different diseases call for different antibiotic treatments.
For more information on Lyme Disease, refer to the Chester County Health Department website at http://www.chesco.org/health/index.html. To schedule an educational program on Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases, contact Irene Shetron at the Chester County Health Department at 610-344-6441.

(posted 10/10/01)

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