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Lyme disease prevention will be especially important this summer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that illnesses from tick bites — including Lyme disease — and other illnesses from mosquito and flea bites have tripled over a 13-year period.
In 2004, there were around 27,000 cases. By 2016, that number had jumped to more than 96,000 cases.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria that can be transmitted by ticks — particularly black-legged ticks, or deer ticks — to humans, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Initial symptoms of Lyme disease typically include a ring-shaped skin rash (Erythema migrans) and flu-like symptoms. Later on, symptoms can include joint pain and neurological problems. If left untreated, an infection can cause arthritis and nervous system problems.
In 2016, the latest year for which data are available, about 26,200 confirmed cases and more than 10,200 probable cases of Lyme disease were reported, according to the CDC. Cases occurred in nearly every state, although they were concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest.
Within the U.S., deer ticks are most commonly found in those two regions, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those regions are home to heavily wooded areas, which are favored by deer ticks.
How to prevent Lyme disease
Preventing Lyme disease is about avoiding ticks — not a simple task considering that they can be as small as poppy seeds.
- Using the right bug repellent. A repellent with the chemical DEET in a concentration of at least 20 percent is a common recommendation. Just don’t exceed 30 percent DEET, Consumer Reports cautions, because higher concentrations are associated with health problems. For a natural alternative, look for a repellent with oil of lemon eucalyptus in a concentration of 30 percent.
- Checking for ticks: Check your body daily, combing for these unwanted hitchhikers. Showering after being outdoors helps too, the Mayo Clinic adds. It can take up to 48 hours or more for bacteria from a tick to enter your bloodstream, so your risk of Lyme disease is low if you remove ticks within that time frame.
- Minding your pets and yard: Your dog, cat or backyard can help usher infected ticks your way, but you can reduce that risk. To learn more, check out a reputable source like the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center.
For help warding off the annoyance of mosquitoes and their own potential for diseases (such as West Nile and Zika viruses), check out “7 Cheap Ways to Avoid Mosquitoes.”
What steps do you take to ward off Lyme disease? Share them below or on our Facebook page.