The battle is no longer just against Lyme disease, but also at least 11 other diseases carried by nasty ticks. These conditions are also steadily spreading, U.S. health experts warn.
The most commonly reported vector-borne sickness in the country, Lyme disease is passed on when a tick bites an animal infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, which then subsequently bites a human. It is more prevalent in the northern regions due to lower temperatures as well as higher humidity.
More Than Lyme Disease On The Battleground
The United States, like the rest of the world, has seen an explosion of new disease outbreaks, the numbers more than tripling since 1980 every year. In the last half-century, for instance, scientists have found at least a dozen new tick-borne diseases.
“The more we look, in a sense, the more we find. Around here, there’s anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and a bacterium related to Lyme, which causes similar symptoms,” explained ecologist Felicia Keesing to NPR.
Keesing was describing the situation only in the Northeast. The Midwest has its own set of concerns, including the Lyme-like Heartland virus and Bourbon virus, also proposed to be spread by ticks. The South is battling Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), while the West has spotted a new kind of spotted fever.
An NPR analysis of CDC data revealed that Borrelia miyamotoi was first detected in 2013 in New Jersey and causes at least 500 cases a year, while the Powassan virus, first witnessed in 1970 in the same state, afflicts at least 25 each year.
Powassan virus — named after a Canadian town where it was discovered back in 1958 — is especially concerning for specialists, since it’s a deadly one carried by the local blacklegged tick. It is known to attack the brain, make it swell up, and lead to a 50 percent chance of permanent neurological damage even upon recovery.
Climate Change’s Role
Ticks appear to be making an earlier appearance given the East Coast’s unusually warm winter. This, experts fear, could be making people unknowingly falling prey to Lyme disease.
Warm weather also attracts mice, a related scourge. Mice harbor Lyme-causing ticks and bacteria, and 2017 plays out to be a truly dangerous Lyme season.
“The mice of the previous year are important because they’re the ones infecting the larvae, and [they transform into] the nymphs that are feeding the following spring,” said Dr. John Aucott, director of Johns Hopkins Rheumatology Lyme Disease Research Center.
Aucott found it unusual to pull a tick off his dog in February, expected to be a snow-buried month and chilly at 30 degrees. Situation on the ground told a different story: there was no snow, it was about 70 degrees during the winter, and different climate change effects are rocking the entire planet.
Optimal Protection Against Ticks
One can employ simple techniques to prevent Lyme disease and address tick bites properly. Note that not all blacklegged ticks are infected, so getting bit does not necessarily translate to the disease.
Lyme symptoms include manifestations of the flu as well as arthritis and locally erupting rashes typical of Lyme.
When removing the tick, leave the insect’s body intact — do not squeeze it or light a match under its body. Once you’ve consulted the Lyme map of the CDC that details problematic and high-spread areas, take a picture of the insect and send it to the TickEncounter Resource Center to be identified. You may also take the insect to the nearest lab for testing.
Visit a doctor if you live in a high-risk area, and once the characteristic red rash shows up. It may not be the famous rash shape at all times, but instead a normal-looking red rash that continue to grow.