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Lyme disease lying low

October 30, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Dr. Dennis McCullough, a Waynesboro veterinarian, said tests he has taken on more than 600 dogs this year show that Lyme disease is making its way into Franklin County.

The disease is carried by tiny deer ticks and can be contracted by humans. Tri-State area health officials said that while the disease is rarely fatal to humans, it can lead to long-term illnesses.

McCullough, of Waynesboro Veterinary Clinic, said he tested 638 dogs for Lyme disease this year. Their owners brought them in for heartworm vaccinations and gave permission for the tests, he said.

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"Doing side tests was a nice way for us to check on the demographics of Lyme disease," he said. "We've been trying to find out if the disease is here and if so, in which areas."

The tests showed evidence of 10 cases, including four from the Blue Ridge Summit area east of Waynesboro, he said. The numbers aren't high enough to say if there is a particular problem there, McCullough said.

"No one can know where the dogs were when they became exposed. It could be anywhere where deer roam," McCullough said.

McCullough said he conducted similar tests for Lyme disease four years ago on 495 dogs and found no evidence of the disease.

McCullough said he sees no reason for large-scale Lyme disease vaccination of pets.

"That would be overkill. It's still low here. We just recommend it if a pet is in an area where there are a lot of deer," he said.

Richard McGarvey, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health in Harrisburg, Pa., said most of the 2,436 cases reported in Pennsylvania last year were in the eastern part of the state. Montgomery County, near Philadelphia, reported the highest number.

West Virginia reported 12 cases in 1996 and eight so far this year, according to Carl Berryman, spokesman for the state health department in Charleston, W.Va. Berkeley County reported one case in 1996 and none this year. Neither Morgan nor Jefferson counties reported cases for the last two years, Berryman said.

Dr. Robert Parker, health officer for Washington County, said there were 447 cases reported in Maryland last year. So far this year, 432 cases were reported, he said. Parker had no statistics for Washington County, but said there were "relatively few" cases. Most occur in the central and eastern parts of the state, he said.

Dr. Richard Garcia, owner of Boonsboro Veterinary Hospital in Boonsboro, said he hasn't seen enough evidence in dogs he treats to test for Lyme disease.

While whitetailed deer are the most common carriers for the tick, it can be found on any warm-blooded animal, health officials said. It is minute in size compared to the common dog tick, they said.

Clinical signs of the disease have not been found in wild animals, only in humans, dogs, cats, horses and cattle. Ticks at nymph stage infest humans while adult ticks affect dogs.

One reason why Lyme disease is not prevalent in the Tri-State area is because it's still too far west for it to take hold, health officials said. The disease is endemic along the Eastern Seaboard.

The disease is named after Lyme, Conn., a small coastal community where it was first discovered in 1975. That area still has the highest number of cases reported, McGarvey said.

In humans, the disease causes flu-like symptoms of fever, chills and body aches. It is not fatal if caught in time and treated, health officials said.

The bacteria that causes it is spiral-shaped, multiplies slowly and is difficult to isolate. The only prevention for humans is avoidance of the ticks that carry it. There are effective vaccines to protect dogs from the disease, but none for humans, health officials said. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to those who contract the disease, officials said.

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