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Lyme disease vaccine in the works

As cases of tick-borne illness continue to rise across northeastern and central Pennsylvania, a new vaccine may be in the works. It's the first one in 20 years.

STROUDSBURG, Pa. — During the summer months, thousands of people take advantage of all the Delaware Water Gap has to offer.

One thing that comes with the outdoor territory is the ticks.

"I think about it when I go hiking outside. I check my legs, and I check my body to see if I got ticks anywhere," Max Budnick, who is visiting from Georgia, said.

"I'm not nearly as concerned as my wife is, but we do check each other once or twice a week for at least every day," Ray Ekeland of New Jersey said.

Pfizer and French drug maker Valneva are developing a vaccine for Lyme disease. It aims to protect people as young as five years old.

Nicole Chinnici is the lab director of the East Stroudsburg University Tick Research Lab in Smithfield Township.

She said while the vaccine won't cure Lyme disease, it's a step in the right direction.

"If this does come down the line and it is approved, and it does become a vaccine, you are not going to be protected against the other tick-borne illnesses that could be harsher and more fatal. For instance, the Powassan Virus could transmit in 15 minutes, so we still want to practice tick prevention," Chinnici said.

While Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness, Chinnici said there are several others, and if you get bit by a tick, she's encouraging you to drop it off at the tick lab for free testing.

"The most common are the black-legged tick, the American dog tick, the lone star tick. Each one of them is going to be associated with different tick-borne illnesses. Lyme disease is just associated with the black-legged tick.

Outdoorsmen said as long as they enjoy the outdoors, they'll check themselves for ticks.

"I've already had Lyme disease once. We went through, I think it [was] doxycycline or something like that, a regiment of that, and I seem to be okay. But I wouldn't want to do that again," Ekeland said.

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