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Lyme Disease Hitting Record Levels, Making Prevention a Summer Priority

Lyme Disease Hitting Record Levels, Making Prevention a Summer Priority
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By    |   Monday, 03 July 2017 09:48 AM

If hiking, camping, or other outdoor activities are on your game plan for this summer, beware: Federal health officials say 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tick-borne diseases are on the rise this year and prevention should be on everyone’s mind, particularly during the summer and early fall when ticks are most active.

CDC figures show the number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. has tripled and the number of counties in the northeaster and upper Midwestern United States that are considered high-risk has increased by more than 300 percent.

“One explanation for this is that the ticks that can transmit the pathogens that cause Lyme disease… have expanded their geographic range and are now being found in places where they weren’t seen 20 years ago,” says Kate Fowlie, a CDC spokeswoman.

Lyme disease, transmitted to humans by tiny deer ticks, was first identified in the early 1980s. Lyme, Conn., was considered ground zero, with many of the first cases seen in that specific area.

Now a multiplicity of factors have helped it spread. White tailed deer, mice, and household pets have helped to spread the ticks, and variations in warm, moist weather sometimes benefit the ticks.

Deer ticks are tiny, a fraction of the size of the larger ticks that you find on your dog. They also live for a couple years, feeding first on deer or mice, then dropping off into wooded areas, high brush and grass.

As they cling to vegetation they wait for a warm body to walk by. They hold onto grasses by their lower legs and when someone brushes by, the tick reaches out with its upper legs to transfer to the new host.

Household pets are at risk of getting Lyme disease, but they can’t transfer it to their owners. The real risk is that they may bring ticks into the house where they latch onto humans.

Nymphal deer ticks, the stage at which they feed on people, are about the size of a poppy seed. Adult ticks are the size of a sesame seed, and are therefore easier to find. When a nymphal tick attaches to a human, not only is it quite small, but they tend to move to an area where they are difficult to find such as the groin or the scalp.

Tick-borne infections often cause a bull’s-eye rash. Early symptoms include fever, headache, chills, muscle and joint aches. Symptoms increase in severity after about 30 days and may include:

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints
  • Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain

The good news is that if Lyme disease is caught early, antibiotics can often resolve the infection. This points to the importance of people being aware of ticks, practicing early detection and prevention.

“Many people do not know they are at risk,” Fowlie says. “Each year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported nationwide, while studies suggest the actual number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is more likely about 300,000.

“Other less common but potentially serious tick-borne infections include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Powassan virus disease.”

Because tick-borne diseases are increasing geographically and in numbers of people infected, the CDC recommend that people do their research about areas where they live or visit. And, they should incorporate some safe practices into their daily lives:

  • Learn which tick-borne disease are common in their areas.
  • Avoid areas with thick vegetation, high grass and leaf litter; walk in the center of trails.
  • Use repellent that contains 10 percent of more DEET on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
  • Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to remove ticks that may be crawling before they bite. Remove any attached ticks as soon as you find them.
  • Examine pets, coats, and day packs.
  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing.
  • Wash dirty clothing in hot water.

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If your summer plans include hiking, camping, or other outdoor activities beware: Federal health officials say 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Here's how to protect yourself, family, and pets.
lyme, disease, record, levels, prevention
Monday, 03 July 2017 09:48 AM
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