Spread to people who are bitten by an infected tick, Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose; yet, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease were reported in 2014 according to the CDC, making it the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the U.S. In 2015, the CDC released a study indicating high-risk areas for Lyme disease have significantly increased during the past 20 years. In the Northeast, where the disease has always been the most prominent, the number of counties identified as having a high incidence of Lyme disease has increased by more than 320 percent, according to the CDC. In the north central part of the country, that increase is approximately 250 percent.
Ticks may be tiny, but they’re also dangerous insects that can transmit serious diseases. Their tiny size can make it easy to miss one that has crawled on your body after time spent outdoors. A few tips for locating and protecting yourself from tick bites include:
- Clean and check thoroughly. Bathe or shower right after spending time outdoors and conduct a full-body tick check using a mirror to see hard to reach places such as the under arms, belly button, behind the knees, and on the scalp.
- Protect yourself in wooded areas. Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Apply EPA-approved insect repellent before participating in outdoor activities. Make sure to read and follow all label directions.
- Put up a barrier. Place a barrier of wood chips or gravel between your lawn, patio and play equipment, and any wooded areas. This will restrict tick migration to recreational areas.
- Use tips from a professional. Consult a professional to spray your yard perimeter to reduce tick populations.
Preventing tick bites is the best way to prevent Lyme disease. “Tick checks” are mentioned in jest and even country music songs, but they should be taken seriously as they can keep the tiny insect from latching on to you. Be sure to check yourself and your family and pets for ticks, during or after time outdoors, especially in wooded areas. These tiny bugs can commonly be found:
- In and around your ears
- Inside your belly button
- Behind your knees
- Around your waist
- On your scalp and in your hair
Symptoms can masquerade as those of the flu, including fever, headache, nausea, jaw pain, light sensitivity, red eyes, muscle aches, neck stiffness, and development of a rash – sometimes shaped like a “bull’s eye” mark – or hardly noticeable at all. If misdiagnosed or left untreated, Lyme disease infects the joints, hearts, and nervous system.
Other tick-borne diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, also pose serious health risks. Preventing tick bites and controlling tick populations is essential to help your protect family, pets and community from these illnesses.
Lyme disease causes serious complications for many families. Here Jennifer Reid, a Lyme disease survivor, talk about her experience: