The growing number of Lyme disease cases is causing concern among people living near the many parks in Northeast Philadelphia.
Lyme disease is the most common insect-born disease in the United States. The disease,which is bacterial, can cause serious physical problems. Further, if left untreated, the disease, contradicted from tick bites, can cause long-term health issues.
Friends of Pennypack Park member Alan Kaminsky said he believes the warm winter of 2011-2012 will result in increased cases of the disease.
“Spring through the fall months are the most active time for ticks. Usually there is a time where they die down, but the winter was so mild this year, they had time to regenerate within the parks,” Kaminsky said.
Residents living around parks are susceptible to ticks because of the climate within the parks. “Deer ticks like cool, moist places, like grassy areas at the edge of the woods or along roads and paths or around shrubs,” Kaminsky said. “Obviously, people should avoid sitting down in these areas or touching any shrubs or trees.”
A 2009 chart of infectious disease statistics from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention showed over 5,000 cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania. This number is more than the amount of cases for HIV and Hepatitis (A, B and C) combined.
Northeast Philadelphia has many parks, including Pennypack, Poquessin, and Tacony, where ticks are easily accessible to infect residents living around those wooded areas.
Tom Witmer, natural resources director for the Department of Parks and Recreation, said many people do not notice the heavy deer population within Northeast Philadelphia so deer-born ticks go unnoticed.
“What we have is more and more deer populating the area, and more deer-born ticks spreading in the parks,” Witmer said. “The difficult part is finding a solution because these parks are surrounded with residential living space, we can’t just go in and kill the deer.”
Witmer added that once or twice a year the Fairmount Park System will make a call to hunters to go into the parks to cut down on overpopulation.
Bob Beaderman, a Holmesburg resident who frequently walks his dog in Pennypack Park, caught Lyme disease a few years ago. Luckily, Beaderman received testing from his doctor before becoming ill. “I’ve read about ticks and Lyme disease for years because I like to go to the park. I found a tick on me one day, went to the doctor and sure enough was tested positive for Lyme disease. I was put on antibiotics before the red bull’s eye mark appeared on my skin,” Beaderman said.
One of the first symptoms of Lyme disease is a spreading rash, typically where the tick bite occurred. It takes one to two weeks to detect Lyme after the disease has been transmitted. Ticks will attach anywhere on the body, but ticks prefer body creases such as the armpit, groin, back of the knee and top of the neck. Rashes from tick bites will therefore often appear in these areas.
“Usually, people will get symptoms of joint pains, fatigue, severe headaches and arthritis,” Beaderman said. “But since I found mine out earlier, I was able to avoid that mess with antibiotics.”
One of the best ways to prevent tick bites is to stay on clear trail paths, the American Lyme Disease Foundation suggests.
Taking morning walks in Pennypack Park, Barbara Feiber makes sure to cover her skin and wear light colored clothing. “Ticks are easier to see if I am wearing brighter colors and I always wear a hat, and check my body afterwords,” Feiber said. “You really have to watch out, because they’ll get you.”
The Lyme Disease Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania(LDASEPA) website gives information on how to check yourself when you get home from the park. Upon returning home, clothes can be spun in the dryer for 20 minutes to kill any unseen ticks. The site also points out that a shower and shampoo may help remove crawling ticks. Because ticks can be the size of poppy seeds, it is important to inspect places where they may not be visible, such as hair and armpits.
If a tick is found on the body, chances of catching Lyme disease are greatly reduced if a tick is removed from a body within 48 hours of the tick being found.
“With all of these ticks spreading in the park, learning ways of preventing Lyme disease is helpful for people who live close to the parks and people can enjoy these wonderful parks without worrying about being covered in ticks,” Feiber said.