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Lyme disease prevention is in order every summer, but it’s especially important this year.
This year is “likely to be a doozy” for Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne disease in the U.S., Melinda Wenner Moyer reports for Slate.
The science writer, who interviewed dozens of tick experts, says the 2017 spike is tied to acorns — yes, acorns. For those little seeds from which mighty oaks grow, 2015 was a “mast year,” meaning trees produced a lot of acorns. Moyer continues:
“The year after a mast year, the acorn-gnawing mouse population booms, and then the year after that — i.e., right now — the mouse blood-sucking tick population goes bonkers. Mice are also among the most important hosts for Lyme disease …”
As we explain in “How to Stop 6 Serious Threats to Summer Fun,” ticks — particularly the blacklegged tick, or deer tick — can spread Lyme disease to humans.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Symptoms typically include:
- A ring-shaped skin rash (Erythema migrans)
If left untreated, an infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
In 2015, the latest year for which data are available, more than 28,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported to the federal government. About 95 percent of those cases occurred in 14 states, largely in the Northeast or Midwest.
Within the U.S., deer ticks are most commonly found in those two regions, according to the nonprofit Mayo Clinic. Those regions are home to heavily wooded areas, which are favored by deer ticks.
As we reported last summer, however, the risk of Lyme disease is spreading to new areas.
In addition, overseas travelers should beware: Lyme disease occurs in dozens of countries.
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. Prevention entails:
- 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, Consumer Reports cautions, as higher concentrations might bring a risk of side effects such as rashes. For a natural alternative, look for a repellent with oil of lemon eucalyptus in a concentration of 30 percent. CR found these products kept ticks away for at least seven hours.
- Checking for ticks: Doing daily tick checks — combing for any unwanted hitchhikers — is Moyer’s No. 1 prevention tip: “The best way to avoid a tick-borne disease is to check every inch of every family member’s body every day from April through November.” 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, which Moyer describes as “the most useful tick website around.”
What steps do you take to ward off Lyme disease? Share them below or on our Facebook page.