Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States. It is passed on when a tick bites an animal infected with Borrelia burgdorferi then subsequently bites a human.
Even with its widespread notoriety across the country, Lyme disease is more commonly reported in the northern regions of the U.S. than in the southern states.
Why Is Lyme Disease More Prevalent In Northern Regions
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey believe the lower temperatures and higher humidity make Lyme disease more prevalent in the northern regions.
Several hypotheses have been developed to explain the prevalence of Lyme disease in the area. One such hypothesis is that mice — not humans — are the more common hosts of Lyme disease in the south.
Similarly, the abundance of lizard populations in the south has been seen as a possible explanation. Lizards are poor carriers of the disease.
The current research, however, focuses on a third hypothesis, which takes temperature and relative humidity into consideration as a major factor in the distribution.
Researchers studied the survival patterns of immature tick carriers of Lyme disease. The group replicated the environments in the northern and southern regions, setting lower temperatures and higher humidity for the northern simulation, and higher temperatures and lower humidity in the southern simulation.
Under simulated conditions, ticks exposed to warmer temperatures such as those in the south are exposed to greater mortality pressures, which can lead to their dehydration and death. To avoid the probability of death, ticks in the southern regions tend to hide under leaves and so are unable to latch onto human skin.
Climate Change Factor
Looking further into the trend, researchers have found possible connections of their hypothesis to the effects of climate change. Though the effects of climate change on southern states are less certain, the warming climate is seen as a factor in the northward movement of the disease.
CDC's Tips To Avoid Lyme Disease
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, skin rash, headache, and fatigue. If left untreated, the disease can spread to the heart, joints, and nervous system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests taking preventative measures against Lyme disease regardless of the time of year or where you live.
First among these tips is to avoid places that are most likely tick infested, such as bushy places and areas with high grass.
If avoidance is not possible, then the use of DEET insect repellents on your body and clothing is suggested.
A thorough inspection of the body and equipment used should be done, especially right after exposure. A full body examination and bath are recommended, as well as washing exposed clothes in hot water then tumble drying them in high heat.