Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus Hit Pennsylvania — PA Physicians Offer Summer Health Advice

Summer is the time most people relax, enjoy the outdoors, and worry less. But, nothing can bug you more than a bug bite. And for some, a bite or sting from a mosquito, tick, or bee can be more than just a small bother. Bee stings can lead to severe allergic reactions; mosquitoes can be carriers of West Nile Virus; and ticks can carry Lyme disease.

Bug bites are the topic of a news release issued earlier this summer by the Pennsylvania Health News Service Project (PHNS). The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) and 20 Pennsylvania-based medical and specialty associations and societies collaborate in the PHNS to identify health issues of concern to physicians and provide basic information for their patients. Physicians are encouraged to print and hand out this article to patients to educate them on this public health issue.

In a recent study by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, Lyme disease is now a risk in every county of Pennsylvania.

This is something you want to catch early,” says Paul Killian, MD.  “A large percentage of patients who go untreated tend to face bouts of arthritis including severe joint pain and swelling.  A small percentage may even develop chronic neurological issues such as shooting pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.”

Symptoms of Lyme disease are a red and expanding rash, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle aches and pains. If it goes untreated, it can lead to serious problems like arthritis and chronic neurological disorders.

With the addition of a law that went into effect last summer, a task force was established to study the issue and make recommendations to the state Department of Health within one year about surveillance and prevention of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Pennsylvania Physician General, Rachel Levine, MD also offers advice on preventing Lyme disease. She suggests avoiding tick infested areas, using insect repellent, and checking your garments and skin after being outside.

When you read about more cases of West Nile in the news, so far it has only been detected in mosquitoes and birds. Human cases tend to be later in the summer and into the fall. And, 70-80 percent of human infections are asymptomatic, which means many people are not aware they have been infected by the virus.

There is a detailed website for West Nile in PA. In particular, the tab labeled “Surveillance Maps and Data” tabulates the different locations and different species of infection.

Like ticks, mosquitoes can come along with diseases that can cause us to experience severe medical ailments.

“Mosquitoes, particularly those in tropical environments, have been linked to some nasty illnesses including yellow fever and malaria,” says G. Alan Yeasted, M.D., FACP, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Physicians. “Here in Pennsylvania, we don’t see a lot of those diseases. Instead, we more often will associate mosquitoes with West Nile Virus.”

Similar to tick prevention, wearing proper clothing and using repellent are some ways to keep mosquitoes and the diseases they could carry away from you and your family.

Even though bees seem to be the least dangerous, they can still pack a powerful punch if you happen to be allergic to them. Low blood pressure and breathing problems are problematic symptoms of a bad reaction.

“It’s very important for a person having a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting to seek immediate medical care,” says Todd D. Green, MD, a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.“Even moderate reactions can be problematic.”

For treatment of bee sting allergies epinephrine and antihistamines can help. For people who know they are allergic, some people carry EpiPens.

With these prevention tips, cautionary signs, and treatment options, bug bites can be less worrisome.