CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Over the last 15 years, Lyme disease diagnoses have exploded and are up 357% in rural areas across the country. Ticks are the pest behind this disease and many others.

“Pennsylvania’s ground zero for tick-borne illnesses,” Nicole Chinnici, director of the East Stroudsburg University Tick Research Lab said. “50% of the residents in Pennsylvania will be in their own backyard when they’re exposed to a tick.”

There are about 25 different kinds of ticks in PA. About 90% of identification requests submitted to Penn State Extension are blacklegged ticks and American dog ticks.

Emily Struckhoff, a vector-borne disease program specialist with Penn State Extension, said there are a few reasons why disease-carrying ticks are at a high.

“One just has to do with the temperature of the climate around here. We’re getting warmer winters, longer summers, which means ticks are active more of the year,” Struckhoff said. “We’ve also seen a lot more people spending a lot more time outside.” 

While most cases of Lyme are mild, some will feel long-term symptoms of fatigue, muscle and joint pain, or cognitive dysfunction.

In March, the Department of Environmental Protection detected “unusually high infection rates of the dangerous and rare deer tick virus” at three sites including Fisherman’s Paradise public fishing area on Spring Creek in Centre County, Iroquois Trail near Tunkhannock in Wyoming County, and Lawrence Township Recreational Park in Clearfield County.

If you find a tick latched to you, quickly remove it with tweezers.

“There are tick-borne pathogens like Powassan virus that can transmit within 15 minutes of that tick attaching,” Chinnici said.

You’re encouraged to submit the tick for testing.

“It gives you important information of what you have potentially been exposed to,” Chinnici said.

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When outside, Chinnici advised you to wear light colors to easily spot ticks, wear high socks, shower within two hours of being outside, do a full-body check, and dry your clothes on high heat.