A new report by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that Lyme disease is spreading across the country. In addition to the disease’s expansion throughout the nation, it is also becoming more prevalent in known hotspots along the East coast. So, as the numbers of counties with a high incidence of Lyme disease has increased more than 320%, the disease is also appearing in states where it was never previously recorded.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is found on and transmitted by the blacklegged deer tick, Ixodes scapularis.
According to the CDC, there are apparently two main reasons to explain the rapid expansion of the disease: 1) climate change; and 2) reforestation/suburbia. Warmer climates cause the life cycle of the tick carrying the culprit bacteria to speed up. This means that the tick will survive long enough to breed and spread the bacteria to more ticks. As ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing, warming climates throughout the country means more areas for the ticks to thrive.
The expansion of suburbia, including the forest clearing and reforestation that goes along with it, has resulted in an increase in the number of favorable habitats for the offending ticks. Specifically, white mice are the natural predators of deer ticks. As people clear forests that are homes to white mice, thereby killing them off, the deer tick population has soared. Moreover, the newly established neighborhoods are often built along the new forest lines, placing humans in close proximity to the ticks’ habitats.
Lyme disease, identified in 1975, can cause a number of health problems. Patients treated with antibiotics right after infection are usually cured without any residual problems. However, left untreated, Lyme disease can cause symptoms affecting the skin, nervous system, heart and/or the musculoskeletal system.
In the majority of cases, a bull’s eye rash, about two inches wide, will appear and expand around the bite site. Early symptoms include chills, fever, headache, stiff neck, joint/muscle pain, fatigue and swollen glands. As the disease progresses and if left untreated, symptoms such as severe fatigue, stiff neck, tingling/numbness in the extremities or facial paralysis can occur.
As ticks attach to humans only as a result of direct contact, it is important to be aware of your surroundings when outside and near the woods. Search yourself, your children and pets for ticks after the day’s adventures and be attuned your body. If you experience the aforementioned symptoms, it would not hurt your doctor and express your concerns.