Tick-borne diseases on the rise

Due to an alarming increase in local tick-borne diseases, we are again providing information on recommended precautions to prevent such infections.

Almost everyone has been bitten by a mosquito, tick or flea. While oftentimes harmless, these insects can be carriers for spreading pathogens (germs). A person who gets bitten by a carrier and gets sick has what is called a “vector-borne disease,” like dengue, Zika, Lyme or plague.

Between 2004 and 2016, more than 640,000 cases of these diseases were reported in the U.S., and nine new germs spread by bites from infected mosquitoes and ticks were discovered or introduced in the nation. State and local health departments and vector control organizations are the nation’s main defense against this increasing threat.

One Centers for Disease Control (CDC) expert says we’re seeing an astronomical rise in the number of cases of Lyme disease, plus a jump in Zika cases and a new tick-borne disease called Heartland Virus.

Why are insect-borne illnesses like Lyme disease on the rise?

  • It’s no longer a regional illness. A recent CDC report shows diseases from tick bites have been reported in every state.
  • The study found more people are at risk because infected travelers spread the germs, plus commerce moves mosquitoes, ticks and fleas around the world.
  • The report shows more than 80 percent of the organizations created to control ticks and other insects need help with surveillance and testing to control the disease.
  • State and local health departments are not equipped with all the tools needed to detect and treat infected people.

Why get tested early? 

  • When a tick latches onto your skin, it takes 24-48 hours to transmit Lyme disease to you.
  • If Lyme is detected, you can talk with your doctor about treatment before you experience symptoms. According to the CDC, people treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease usually recover rapidly and completely.
  • If left untreated, you can develop a painful kind of arthritis, as well as heart, brain and nerve problems.

How to prevent tick bites

  • Cover up.When in wooded or grassy areas, wear shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves. Try to stick to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass. Keep your dog on a leash.
  • Use insect repellents.Apply insect repellent with a 20 percent or higher concentration of DEET to your skin. Parents should apply repellent to their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth. Apply products with permethrin to clothing or buy pretreated clothing.
  • Try to tick-proof your yard. Clear brush and leaves where ticks live. Keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
  • Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks.Be especially vigilant after spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Deer ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin, so you may not discover them unless you search carefully.
  • Shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth might remove unattached ticks.
  • Don’t assume you’re immune.You can get Lyme disease more than once.
  • Remove a tick as soon as possible. Using tweezers, gently grasp the tick near its head or mouth. Don’t squeeze or crush the tick but pull carefully and steadily. Once you’ve removed the entire tick, dispose of it and apply antiseptic to the bite area.

– Information and photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention