Lyme Disease Risk May Increase in 2017
by Lisa DiFalco
Some people love to get away from it all and build their dream homes in areas surrounded by nature. With spring right around the corner, people may be looking to spruce up properties or simply soak in some sunshine and take in a little hiking. Be aware that Lyme disease cases may be hitting new highs this year. Understand more about how easy it may be to contract the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s epidemiologist, Kiersten Kugeler, said:
“In the Northeast, most people catch Lyme around their homes: People out gardening; people playing in their backyard; mowing their lawns.”
People engaging in routine activities may now be at a higher risk of coming down with Lyme disease. There have been reports of greater numbers of mice in 2016, which may directly influence how many probable and confirmed cases of the disease occur during 2017. Learn more about the potential increased risk of contracting Lyme disease and important next steps in the case of an infection.
The Hudson River Valley in 2016
People living in the Hudson River Valley were subjected to a “mouse plague” during the summer of 2016. Signs of mice and their droppings were widespread. Individuals such as Rick Ostfeld, ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. arrived at their upstate New York homes and found obvious evidence of mice occupation while they had been away.
Ostfeld said: “Not only were there mouse droppings on our countertops, but we also found dead mice on the kitchen floor.”
Ostfeld and his wife, Felicia Keesing, have studied Lyme disease for more than 20 years. They believe an early warning system to predict Lyme cases includes counting the number of mice found during the preceding year. They report that there is a correlation between the amount of mice around a forest during the summer and the number of reported Lyme cases the summer after.
Mice are excellent at transmitting disease; 95 percent of ticks that attach and feed on them become infected. One mouse can carry a significant amount of ticks.
Ostfeld said: “An individual mouse might have 50, 60, even 100 ticks covering its ears and face.”
Ostfeld expects a Lyme disease plague this year due to the high number of mice found in the area in 2016. He cannot predict which areas will be hit hardest. Lyme disease has spread farther from earlier cases in the areas of Western Wisconsin and New Jersey to Connecticut.
Kugeler shared: “Whether it’s a bad season or not, there’s still going to be a lot of human cases of tick-borne diseases. What’s important for people to know is that the ticks are spreading to new areas—and tick-borne diseases are coming with them.”
According to the CDC, Lyme is now present in over 260 counties. Lyme disease cases have been found in:
- The East Coast into Washington, D.C.;
- Southern Virginia;
- Northern Indiana;
- Wisconsin; and
- The West Coast.
From 2001 to 2015, cases of confirmed and probable Lyme disease have “more than doubled” in the U.S. Individuals who are in areas where Lyme disease reports are high should be aware that they may be placing themselves at higher risk of contracting the disease.
A Daily Tick Check
The first thing for people to do when planning to spend time outdoors, even if they are in their backyard, is to perform a daily tick check. While in the shower, look for ticks in the places that they like to hide most often. Kugeler said:
“That’s the scalp, behind the ears, the armpits and in the groin area.”
If a tick is found, remove it as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of transmission. Be on the lookout for Lyme symptoms including a fever or a red rash. Seek treatment if any symptoms come up.
What to Do When Bit
A small tick is no longer exploring the area, but hunkered down for a snack. It is important to remove the tick. Do not use Vaseline or apply cigarette smoke or a match to it.
Dr. Brian Fallon, director of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research at Columbia University Medical Center offers this advice: “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. What you don’t want to do is squeeze the body of the tick. That will cause the tick to spew all of its stomach contents into the skin, and you’ll be more likely to acquire whatever infection that tick was carrying.”
Check the Lyme map to find out if Lyme disease is an issue in the area where a tick may have hitched a ride. Find details on the county level from the CDC or check a state’s health department website. If there is a significant risk of Lyme disease transmission, save the tick to test it at a lab.
Fallon said: “Put the tick into a baggie. The tick doesn’t even need to stay alive for a lab to see if it carried Lyme.”
For those who develop symptoms, early treatment helps many recover fully. A one-day treatment is recommended for those with symptoms or residing in a place that has reported a high number of cases.
Fallon said: “The Infectious Diseases Society of America recommends a one-day treatment of doxycycline, prophylactically. That’s believed to be protective, to some extent, from the disease.”
Families, case managers, educators, nurses and healthcare professionals should be aware of the possible rise of Lyme disease cases this year. Understand how to avoid contracting Lyme disease and what to do when bitten by a potentially infected tick. Early treatment helps reduce the risk of long-term health issues.