The summer season is the perfect time to take advantage of warm temperatures and sunshine by hitting your local area hiking trails and nature preserves. Unfortunately, the warm temperatures that come with the summer season also bring out all of those pesky insects which means higher risk for insect-borne diseases such as Lyme disease. According to new research published in BMJ Global Health, Lyme disease cases and infections appear to be becoming more common in the United States based on infection rates over the past several summers. A rough estimate claims that about 14 percent of the worlds population may have had Lyme disease at some point in their lives. Additionally about 9 percent of the population of North America has had Lyme disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 476,000 people in the United States are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease each year making it a significant public health issue. Read on to learn the reasons why Lyme disease may be on the rise and some preventative measures you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.
According to Dr. Dana Hawkinson, an expert in infectious diseases and the medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System, “Lyme disease does seem to be increasing in prevalence, for several reasons, first we have a growing population. We also have more people doing activities in outdoor spaces, more doctors testing for Lyme disease, and longer warmer temperatures throughout the year allowing for a longer tick-borne illness season.” Due to the longer periods of warm weather regions around the world and the U.S. have been experiencing, there is a higher population of insects carrying and spreading illnesses such as Lyme disease. Dr. Saahir Khan who is an infectious disease specialist with Keck Medicine of USC, says “climate change is increasing the size of the regions where the ticks that carry Lyme disease are present, increasing rates of infection.” Combining those factors with the increasing number of people participating in outdoor activities such as hiking, it is pretty easy to see why Lyme disease may be on the rise around the U.S.
Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of the black-legged (deer) tick in mid-Atlantic, north-central and northeastern areas of the United States. On the Pacific coast the disease is spread by the western black-legged tick. Both species of ticks can attach to any part of the human body but typically attach to areas where it is hard to see them such as the groin, scalp, or armpit. In most Lyme disease cases, infection comes from the bite of an immature tick known as a nymph. Ticks tend to be less than 2mm in size making them very hard to find on the body. Making sure you check your body or having someone close to you check for areas you cannot see for yourself is the best way to prevent infection since a tick must be attached for at least 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit the disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can appear between 3 to 30 days after the initial tick bite. Some symptoms you may experience after infection can include aches in the joints and muscles, fever, headache, chills, and swollen lymph nodes. Roughly 70 to 80 percent of those infected may also develop a rash where the tick bite was located, typically this appears about 7 days after the bite. The rash may be warm to the touch and typically looks like a target or “bulls-eye.” Although you can avoid contracting Lyme disease by removing the tick early enough, the best way to avoid infection is to prevent being bit in the first place. Dr. Saahir Khan suggests wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible and checking your skin and clothes for ticks after doing outdoor activities where ticks may be present such as forests and nature preserves.
Of course, infection cannot always be prevented in these cases due to how difficult ticks are to see. If you suspect you have been infected with Lyme disease, the best course of action is visiting your regular physician. Additionally, there are also a variety of at-home tests including LetsGetChecked, Everlywell, and IGeneX, that can help determine if you have Lyme disease. Treatment for Lyme disease usually entails a two to four-week course of antibiotics along with abstaining from physical exertion such as intense exercise or manual labor. Symptoms typically clear up completely after a full course of antibiotics. However, some people may experience lingering symptoms such as fatigue, pain, or cognitive difficulties for more than 6 months after treatment. This being taken into account, the best treatment is always prevention. Making sure you properly screen yourself and loved ones for ticks after doing outdoor activities and wearing protective clothing can greatly reduce your chances of contracting Lyme disease as you enjoy the great outdoors this summer!
Pratt, E. (2022, June 23). Lyme disease may be becoming more common. Healthline. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/lyme-disease-becoming-more-common-what-to-know-before-hitting-the-trail
Herbaugh, T. M. (2022, June 23). Worried about a tick bite? here are the best at-home lyme disease tests. Healthline. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/lyme-disease-test#A-quick-look-at-the-best-at-home-Lyme-disease-tests
Dong, Y., Zhou, G., Cao, W., Xu, X., Zhang, Y., Ji, Z., Yang, J., Chen, J., Liu, M., Fan, Y., Kong, J., Wen, S., Li, B., Yue, P., Liu, A., & Bao, F. (2022, June 1). Global seroprevalence and sociodemographic characteristics of borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato in human populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Global Health. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://gh.bmj.com/content/7/6/e007744