With the start of the warm season, health care providers may soon be faced with a soaring number of Lyme disease cases, particularly in northern areas.

According to Rick Ostfeld, disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, this year, we're anticipated to witness a surge in Lyme infestation.

In preparation for a possible impending pandemic, Ostfeld has devised a system of early warning signs based on his studies on mice.

Lyme disease incidence has tripled in later decades, with nearly 300,000 cases reported annually in the United States. The affliction seems to be concentrated mostly in north-eastern regions — with New York and Connecticut on the high-warning list — but transmission rates continue to increase in parts of New England and the upper Midwest as well.

Common Lyme Disease Causes

Also known as borreliosis, Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, typically carried by blacklegged ticks. The size of a poppy seed, these ticks can hide in skin folds anywhere on the body, making them hard to detect.

Kiersten Kugeler, epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explains blacklegged ticks usually go for "the scalp, behind the ears, the armpits and in the groin area", so these are the places that deserve a closer inspection.

The important thing to remember about Lyme infection is that it doesn't always occur while hiking or camping, but it can also happen in your backyard. This is true especially for East Coast residents, a region known to be infested with ticks.

"People may be putting themselves at risk every day without knowing it," points out Kugeler, who urges those living in high-risk areas to check their body for ticks on a daily basis.

Tips On Dealing With Tick Bites: When To See A Doctor

Not all blacklegged ticks are infected with Lyme. Therefore, getting bit doesn't necessarily mean you have contracted the disease. Some regions have a higher prevalence of Lyme-infested ticks, whereas in other places, the same ticks don't carry the bacterium.

Usual Lyme disease symptoms include flu-like manifestations and arthritis, along with the tell-tale rash that erupts locally.

If you get bit by a tick, the important thing is to stay calm. The safe way to remove the tick is by tweezers.

"Very carefully, go under the head of the tick with the tweezers and just pull out the mouth of the tick, which is embedded in the skin," says Dr. Brian Fallon, head of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research at Columbia University Medical Center.

When removing the tick, make sure to leave the insect's body intact by not squeezing it to avoid additional infection. Don't try to take the tick out by lighting a match under its body or by using Vaseline and/or cigarette smoke.

To determine whether the tick is infected or not, consult the Lyme map provided by the CDC, which highlights all problematic regions and tracks the high-spread areas.

Once you've identified if your community is safe or potentially at risk, take a picture of the tick and send it to the TickEncounter Resource Center for identification. Another way to go is to save the insect in a bag, dead or alive, and take it to the nearest lab to be tested for Lyme.

Unless you live in a risk area and display the typical Lyme symptoms — fever, rash — you don't need to see a doctor. However, if the specific red rash settles in, seek immediate medical help. Be wary that the rash may not always take the famous "target" (bull's eye) shape. A normal red rash that's continually growing may also be a warning sign.

Keep in mind that it takes around 24 to 36 hours for the pathogen to be released in your bloodstream. Therefore, simply noticing a tick on your body without it being latched to you skin means you're probably safe from harm.

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