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State Leaders Warn of Lyme Disease, ‘Rare but Dangerous’ Deer Tick Virus

Outdoor recreation raises concerns for tickborne illnesses

March 28, 2022

Pennsylvanians should take precautions to prevent Lyme disease and the ‘rare but dangerous’ Deer Tick Virus (DTV) that has been spotted at high levels in ticks in parts of Pennsylvania, state leaders said this month.

As temperatures rise during the spring, state health and environmental officials are warning of the health effects of tickborne illnesses in Pennsylvania and the steps residents should take to protect themselves.

“Lyme disease has been present in all 67 counties for some time, and unfortunately, the prevalence of the very serious Deer Tick Virus appears to be increasing in some tick populations,” Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said earlier this month. 

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Deer Tick Virus:  The state Department of Environmental Protection tick surveillance and testing program has seen “unusually high” rates of DTV in ticks. DTV is a form of the Powassan virus that can be transmitted from tick to human in as little as 15 minutes after a bite occurs
    •  ‘Hotspot’ areas, low overall:  Three surveillance areas in Clearfield, Wyoming, and Centre counties reported infection rates exceeding 80 percent of ticks sampled, but the overall statewide infection rate outside the three “hotspot” locations is just 0.6 percent of ticks sampled
    • Symptoms:  Initial symptoms of a DTV infection include fever, headache, vomiting, and weakness. A large majority of patients experience severe symptoms
  • Prevention is key:  Preventing tick bites is the best way to reduce risk of infection and disease
  • Spring emergence:  Blacklegged ticks are generally active when temperatures are in the mid-30s and above
  • Next steps:  If you experience symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately
  • Quotable:  “By learning where ticks live, seeking treatment if experiencing symptoms, and following the best practices for prevention, we can avoid cases of Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses,” said Dr. Denise Johnson, Department of Health physician general

If you plan to venture outdoors, state officials recommend:

  • Applying tick repellents to exposed skin before entering the outdoors
  • Wearing light-colored outer clothing and tucking shirts into pants, and pants into socks
  • Walking in the centers of trails, and avoiding wooded and brushy areas
  • After returning home, removing all clothing, taking a shower, and placing clothing into the dryer on high heat to kill any lingering ticks
  • Conducting a full-body tick check using a hand or full-length mirror
  • Checking pets
  • Using tweezers to remove ticks carefully, including the head. Contact your health care provider with any questions or if symptoms arise

Additional educational materials for patients and health care providers from the Pennsylvania Department of Health are available online.