Watch out for ticks! The Tick is a cartoon, a square-jawed, muscular, bright blue-costumed figure with antennae sticking up from his head, but we are actually talking about the bugs which happen to be the leading cause of lyme disease (LD). LD is a real thing and this month happens to be LD Awareness Month. LD manifests itself as a multisystem inflammatory disease that affects the skin in its early, localized stage, and spreads to the joints, nervous system and, to a lesser extent, other organ systems in its later, disseminated stages. If diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, LD is almost always readily cured.
The prevalence of LD in the northeast and upper mid-west is due to the presence of large numbers of the deer tick’s preferred hosts, white-footed mice and deer, and their proximity to humans. White-footed mice serve as the principal carriers on which many larval and juvenile ticks feed and become infected with the LD spirochete. An infected tick can then transmit infection the next time it feeds on another host, namely…you.
So how can you battle ticks this summer?
- Wear light-colored clothing. This allows you to spot ticks more easily.
- Wear a hat and long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your clothes in, shirts into pants and pants into socks.
- Use an insect repellant with DEET on exposed skin.
- When hiking, stay in the middle of the trails, and try to avoid underbrush, fallen trees, and tall grass.
- Always perform a tick check when returning in from outdoors or when outdoors for extended periods of time.
Generally, LD in its later stages can also be treated effectively, but because the rate of disease progression and individual response to treatment varies from one patient to the next, some patients may have symptoms that linger for months or even years following treatment. In rare instances, LD causes permanent damage.
Although LD is now the most common arthropod-borne illness in the U.S. (more than 150,000 cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] since 1982), its diagnosis and treatment can be challenging for clinicians due to its diverse manifestations and the limitations of currently available serological (blood) tests.
New tick-borne diseases continue to be discovered. For example, anaplasmosis (Human Granulocytic Ehrlichiosis) was first described in 1994; a Lyme disease-like illness has recently been reported in Missouri that does not test positive on standard Lyme disease serologic tests and is thought to be transmitted by the Lone Star tick; and an encephalitis-like virus was discovered in 1997 in several deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) in New England. Some researchers suspect that there are even more tick-borne diseases that are still unidentified.
The exponential increase in deer numbers throughout the United States from an estimated 500,000 in 1900 to 30,000,000 today has greatly increased the number of deer ticks throughout the country. Increased outdoor recreation, extended forest cover (especially in the Northeast), reduced hunting in some areas and continued suburban sprawl are some of the factors involved in the rise in reported cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections in humans throughout the United States.
Written by Sy Kraft