About three decades ago, Lyme disease was a little-known issue in only two tiny areas of the country. Now, it’s a whole other story.
The number of probable and confirmed U.S. cases of Lyme disease has more than doubled over the past 15 years, with most of the infections occurring in the Northeast. According to experts, this trend could get even worse in 2017, thanks to a key factor that predicts worsening outbreaks.
Forecasting the Risks
To understand why experts expect an uptick in Lyme disease cases, it helps to know the infection process. Lyme disease is transmitted to people through bacteria from the bite of an infected deer tick (also called a black-legged tick). About the size of a small seed, the ticks cling to trees, plants and grasses waiting for a host to pass by. Once one does, they attach themselves and feed on the host’s blood.
According to disease ecologists, they can predict transmission rates based on the population of infected mice. Unfortunately, much higher mouse populations are expected in the Northeast this year, which means a greater number of human Lyme disease infections in 2017.
Once the Lyme disease bacteria enter a human’s bloodstream, they can cause fatigue, fever, headache, rashes and joint pain. While antibiotics can eliminate the infection, delayed treatment can result in serious circulatory and nervous system issues that result in irregular heartbeat, severe muscle pain and cognitive problems.
If you live in the Northeast, it’s important to take the following precautions to reduce the risk of infection:
- Check yourself daily for ticks.
- Dry your clothes for at least 20 minutes before washing to kill off hidden ticks
- Use insect repellents with DEET or Permethrin
- Cover all bare skin with clothing when moving through brush or wooded areas
- Examine pets and see your vet about effective tick prevention
- Keep your yard cut short and clear it of brush
Dealing with a Bite
If you find a tick on your body, remove it by the head using tweezers. Never squeeze the tick by its body or you will increase the risk of an infection. If you show any troublesome symptoms days, weeks or months after a bite, visit your doctor for an evaluation.