CHARLES TOWN — Officials nationally are expecting a surge in Lyme disease this year.
National and state officials are watching for an increase in tick bites because of the mild winter weather.
Mild weather means that eggs already in the ground will hatch sooner.
So far this year, there have been a number of cases in Jefferson County that are being investigated, said Kim Kline, regional epidemiologist.
“Nothing specific until the lab test and the state collects the data,” Kline said.
The Centers for Disease Control said the tick infections occur during the “nymph” stage. They are the size of the period at the end of a sentence, have four legs and the ability to suck blood, according to the CDC.
Because they are essentially invisible they can easily go undetected.
A tick infection can lay dormant up to 15 years, according to the CDC.
The tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted, said Eric Dotseth, state entomologist.
The diagnoses are difficult because the symptoms range from headaches to long-term joint pain and even heart problems.
By August 2010, Hampshire County had seven confirmed cases.
As of November 2011, the health department confirmed eight Lyme disease cases.
In 2007, the CDC reported 27,444 cases of Lyme disease in the United States, which is three people every hour.
The CDC said that Lyme disease has surpassed AIDS as one of the fastest growing infectious epidemics in the nation, with a cost to society measured at approximately $1 billion annually.
Dorseth said ticks attach to all parts of the human body, including armpits, scalp and groin. They seek heat, motion and sweat.
The CDC and officials at the Food and Drug Administration recommend avoiding wooded, brushy and grassy areas, wearing light-colored clothing and tucking pant legs into socks or shoes and shirts into pants. Wearing a hat for extra protection and spraying insect repellent containing DEET on clothes and exposed skin might also help ward off ticks.
People who have been outside should do a careful body check for ticks after outdoor activities. For more information about Lyme disease log on to www.fda.gov/cdrh/consumer/lymedisease.html or www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/lyme/index.htm.