Over the span of 13 years, there have been more than 640,000 cases of insect-borne illnesses including Zika, West Nile, and Lyme disease. In 2016 alone, there were more than 96,000 cases, compared to the 27,000 in 2004.
“The numbers on some of these diseases have gone to astronomical levels,” said the CDC’s director of vector-borne diseases Lyle Petersen, as reported by the New York Times.
In particular, the number of tickborne diseases has more than doubled since 2004, with Lyme disease accounting for 82 percent. And that’s just reported cases. In the past, the CDC has estimated that 300,000 people are infected with Lyme disease each year, though fewer than 40,000 of those cases are reported.
Now, the weather is warming and health experts believe this summer will be plagued by a rising number of disease-carrying ticks. Despite the troubling outlook and jump in Lyme disease cases already being reported, doctors say there are some important steps you can take to prevent becoming infected.
The CDC says that if a tick is found attached to you early enough, there is still time to avoid infection. Ticks reportedly need to be attached to a person for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria that transmits Lyme is passed to the bite victim. “It is important to carry out a regular tick check after participating in outdoor activities,” a spokesman for Public Health England said, via International Business Times.
Doctors also warn that ticks like to climb upwards and will likely travel up a person’s leg before attaching themselves. “They often attach where there was a constriction of clothing, like around the waistline,” Barbara Thorne of the University of Maryland told NPR. “They’re small, but they’re not invisible.”
Here are some steps you can take to prevent yourself from being bitten by a tick (via the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)
- Stay on cleared paths and hiking trails when walking in heavily wooded areas.
- Wear light-colored clothing to allow you to better see ticks that crawl on your clothing. Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up the inside of your pant legs.
- Spray your shoes with the insecticide as well.
- Wear a hat and bandana around your neck.
- Apply repellents containing DEET to prevent ticks from attaching.
- Check for ticks on your body and clothing after returning from wooded, brushy, or tall, grassy areas and remove any ticks you find on you, your child or your pet.
- Keep in mind that young ticks are very small (about the size of a poppy seed), so seek help to inspect not easily reachable areas. Be sure to look carefully in areas of the body where hair is present, since it may make it difficult to see the ticks. Adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed.
- Shower after being in an area with ticks, and promptly put clothes in a dryer on high heat to kill ticks.
- Speak to your vet about tick prevention products for your pet dogs and cats.
- Remove leaf litter and debris to reduce the likelihood of ticks around the home.
- If you get a rash or a fever, let the doctor know if you may have been exposed to ticks, even if you don’t remember having a tick bite.
According to a study published in the Journal of Insect Science, spray-on repellents containing DEET or PMD (oil of lemon eucalyptus) are your best defense against mosquitoes. You can check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s search tool to help you find the right product.
You can also opt for clothes pre-treated with permethrin and spraying shoes with the insecticide. There are studies that show that just protecting your feet can do an amazing job against ticks because they tend to be low to the ground, so their entry point is that they often climb up on your shoes and keep going and get to your skin.
And if you’re worried about ticks in your yard, Linda Giampa, executive director of Bay Area Lyme Foundation, offers this tip: “Fill toilet-paper tubes with permethrin-sprayed cotton and scatter them under the bushes around your yard. Local squirrels, mice and other rodents can take them back to their nests, killing the ticks they carry.”
If bitten, getting treatment in the early stages is vital. Tick bites leave a large bull’s eye-shaped rash on the skin. Lyme disease and other infections can be treated with antibiotics like doxycycline or amoxicillin if detected early enough. Early signs that a person has been infected include fever, chills, fatigue, and joint pain.
The CDC added that the number of diseases transmitted from mosquito, tick, and flea bites has tripled from 2004 to 2016. Lyme disease is one of the most common illnesses a tick bite can infect humans with. If left untreated, Lyme disease can eventually lead to inflammation of the brain and infections of the nervous system.