By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Of the two ticks in the state that tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease out of 261 sampled in 2012, one was from Indian Valley east of Lake Crescent.
“Lake Crescent and the area around Lake Crescent is tick heaven,” said Dr. Tom Locke, public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, at the Clallam County Board of Health meeting Tuesday.
“People report tick bites from around there all the time.
“So, given that this is an area where we see a lot of tick bites, this is significant news.”
Locke issued a Borrelia burgdorferi [bacteria that causes Lyme disease] pathogen detection and Lyme disease surveillance advisory to health care providers this week.
“We want people to know about it. At the same token, we don't want them to overreact to it, this one test result,” Locke added.
“We've never had a confirmed case of Lyme disease in Clallam County, although we've had anecdotes of people being bit by ticks and getting rashes and taking antibiotics.”
Lyme disease often causes a rash in a bull's-eye pattern around a tick bite. It can lead to flu-like symptoms and joint pain and neurological problems if left untreated, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“You don't want Lyme disease,” said Jim McEntire, health board member and a Clallam County commissioner.
“It's not good. I know several people who have had it or have it, and it is something to be avoided.”
With proper antibiotic treatment in the early stages of the disease, most people recover completely, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Atlanta.
“The best prevention against Lyme disease is, No. 1, try to prevent yourself from getting bit by ticks,” Locke said.
Using insect repellent with DEET, and wearing long pants and sleeves in the woods are good ways to prevent tick bites, he said.
If you do get bitten, remove the tick within 24 to 48 hours, as it takes a day or two for Lyme disease to spread to a human.
“If you check yourself every day after the hike and remove any ticks, that's a very effective prevention against tick-borne infection,” Locke said.
West Coast ticks such as the Ixodes pacificus, the Western black-legged ticks that are common in Clallam County, get Borrelia burgdorferi from mice.
On the East Coast and in the Midwest, tick-borne disease pathogens come from deer.
“There's these tick surveillance programs that have been going on Washington state to, first of all, determine what type of ticks are distributed around the state because different types of ticks are associated with different kinds of tick-borne disease,” Locke said of recent state Department of Health studies.
“Just for the last couple of years, they now have the technology and funding to look at specific ticks to see if they're infected with the bacteria.”
In the past two years, four ticks in the state have tested positive for Borrelia: one in Clallam County and three in Mason County.
“So they are on the Peninsula,” Locke said.
Last year, a probable case of Lyme disease was reported for a Jefferson County resident.
“In terms of what we do about this, first and foremost, we want more tick testing,” Locke told the health panel.
“So that's what we're trying to set up. This program is still running, so we're working with wildlife biologists trying to make sure we get a lot more specimens submitted from the county.
“If we do 25 or 30 tick tests, and we find that over 20 percent of them are positive for Borrelia, that's actually going to change how we manage tick bites in Clallam County,” he said.
If Borrelia is found to be common in the Ixodes pacificus tick, which accounted for eight of the 12 submitted from Clallam County, health officials will “start giving people antibiotics automatically every time you get a tick bite,” Locke said.
“That will have some adverse effects in its own right, so we don't want to do that unless there's a strong reason,” Locke said.
“We're not at that point yet.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.