The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released alarming new data about the ticks that infect about 300,000 people a year with Lyme disease, a complicated and potentially devastating disease.
Those ticks are present in more places than ever, according to research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
Lyme disease is primarily transmitted by the blacklegged tick and western blacklegged tick. The CDC’s new map of where those arachnids live shows they’ve been reported in nearly half of all U.S. counties. The last time the CDC published a comprehensive map like this was in 1998.
“We wanted to raise awareness among the public that some people are going to be seeing ticks in areas where they didn’t see them 20 years ago,” CDC research biologist Rebecca Eisen told LifeZette from her office in Fort Collins, Colorado.
That broader area means your chances of being bitten by an infected tick could be higher, depending on where you live or travel.
Since the late 1990s, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. has tripled, Eisen said.
The new research shows more ticks are being reported in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, western New York, West Virginia, Virginia, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and western Michigan.
Lyme disease can be tough to diagnose and treat. Some of its symptoms are often confused with other illnesses, such as the flu or fibromyalgia. Those symptoms can include fever, headache, body aches and fatigue.
If diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics. But in some cases, those who struggle with it long-term will tell you it can destroy lives or greatly compromise people’s well being.
Advocates of Lyme disease awareness say the illness has the potential to incapacitate its victims to the point that they can barely function, let alone hold down jobs.
“I knew when I quit we would lose everything, and we did,” Julie Hagen, a resident of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, told LifeZette. “We lost our house. I lost my business. I had to file for bankruptcy.”
[lz_ndn video =30212889]
The 36-year-old mother of two said she wasn’t diagnosed with Lyme disease until six years ago, but said the suffering probably started in 2007.
“I’d wake up and my feet would feel like I was stepping on glass. Every single bone in my foot felt like it was breaking when I’d walk or step out of bed,” she told LifeZette.
Hagen said she travels to several different states for treatment and is trying to get her family’s life back on track, but it’s difficult.
“I’m struggling again with body pain, chronic fatigue and just functioning in general,” she said.
Hagen told LifeZette she is pleased to see that the CDC is publishing helpful new data, but says the federal agency has a lot of catching up to do.
“Knowledge is power, and I think it’s better now than never,” she said. “They’re finally getting somewhere. I think they’ve got a heck of a long way to go.”
Researcher Eisen said the new research should help people prevent contact with ticks. She recommends avoiding tick-infested areas when possible and protecting yourself with repellent or specially treated clothing.
Eisen also said if you are in an area with reported ticks, you should shower immediately after you leave and check your body for ticks.
The CDC warns that ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see places such as your armpits, scalp and groin. In most cases, a tick has to be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be passed to you.
Also, keep in mind that the map is not necessarily the entire picture.
“It’s entirely possible that there are ticks in areas where they haven’t been reported yet,” Eisen said.