Thursday, July 2

Lyme disease can mimic symptoms of COVID-19, health officials warn – Ellwood City Ledger

Fever, chills, headache need to be diagnosed to avoid serious complications.

Pennsylvania is seeing an uptick in emergency visits for tick bites as more people are taking to outdoor recreational activities, including hikes, while social distancing.

State Secretary of Health Rachel Levine reminded residents to take proper steps to prevent tick bites that can lead to Lyme disease, which has symptoms similar to COVID-19.

“Over the past several months, we have seen an increase in the number of emergency department visits related to tick bites,” Levine said. “Some symptoms of Lyme disease, such as fever, chills and headache, are similar to symptoms of COVID-19. It is essential that all residents know the proper ways to protect themselves against ticks and are aware of the dangerous diseases they can carry. We want all Pennsylvanians to get outside and be healthy but do so in the safest way possible.”

While there is no antibiotic treatment recommended for mild cases of COVID-19, Lyme disease needs to be diagnosed and treated with antibiotics early to prevent serious long-term complications, including arthritis and heart ailments. Testing to determine the cause of the symptoms is important, both to prevent the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, and to determine if the person could have Lyme disease.

“We certainly want people to visit the doctor for other ailments other than COVID, if needed,” said Nate Wardle, health department press secretary.

Preliminary data show that more than 8,500 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Pennsylvania in 2019. The department is continuing to compile complete Lyme disease data, and final numbers for 2019 should be available within the next month.

Over time, if not treated, Lyme disease can lead to severe symptoms that affect the heart, nervous system and joints.

You are at risk of attracting ticks any time you are outside, but especially in wooded and bushy areas or areas with high grass and leaf litter, and even in your own yard. To reduce your chances of a tick bite:

• Walk in the center of trails and avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter;

• Use a repellent that contains at least 20% DEET;

• Wear light-colored clothing;

• Conduct full-body tick checks on yourself and on your pets after spending time outdoors; and

• Take a bath or shower within 2 hours after coming indoors.

If you have been bitten by a tick, make sure to monitor the area for any kinds of symptoms and contact your health care provider immediately.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can include a red, swollen bulls-eye shaped rash, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes. Some of these symptoms are the same for COVID-19, that is why testing is so important, officials said. COVID-19 can also cause shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, diarrhea, sore throat and loss of the sense of taste or smell.

Early stage symptoms of Lyme may appear in as few as two days or as long as 30 days after exposure. Later stage symptoms like arthritis, heart and neurological issues may appear months later. Reported illnesses have ranged from people with few to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying.

All Pennsylvania residents are encouraged to sign up for AlertPA, a text notification system for health, weather, and other important alerts like COVID-19 updates from commonwealth agencies. Residents can sign up online at www.ready.pa.gov/BeInformed/Signup-For-Alerts.

For more information on COVID-19, as well as ticks and Lyme disease, and mosquitoes and West Nile virus, visit the Department of Health website at www.health.pa.gov or follow the department on Facebook and Twitter.