Health

A ‘Tick’ Time Bomb to Avoid

Scientists warn this will be a bad year for Lyme disease — here's how to protect yourself

Tick season is coming along quickly.

And based on populations of mice, which are major factors in the spread of the Lyme disease bacteria to ticks, scientists believe this coming season will be significant, especially in the Northeast.

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“The explanation is simple: Mice are highly efficient transmitters of Lyme,” said researchers Felicia Keesing and Rick Ostfeld for NPR. “They infect up to 95 percent of ticks that feed on them. Mice are responsible for infecting the majority of ticks carrying Lyme in the Northeast. And ticks love mice.”

The Northeast isn’t alone, however, in its risk for an infectious season. The Midwest is also a high-risk area. In these two regions, the number of confirmed and probable Lyme disease cases more than doubled from 2001 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Public health officials in Michigan say an unusual warm spell in February has Lyme disease-carrying ticks already back out and looking for hosts — and the Arkansas Department of Public Health is reporting its first two active cases since 2007.

The black-legged ticks that carry Lyme can be hard to spot; they’re tiny and they like to hide out in hard-to-see spaces on the body — places like behind the ears, on the scalp, or around the ankles. The most important thing is to recognize your risk depending on where you live, work, and play, and to check your skin daily and your children’s skin. Check your pets, too.

“The bacteria that causes Lyme is not transmitted instantly,” said Amesh Adalja, an affiliated scholar with Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Tick attachment must be for 48 to 72 hours for transmission to occur, so daily inspection of one’s body is an effective means to prevent acquisition of Lyme disease.”

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The virus can cause flu-like symptoms and arthritis, but severe long-term complications are common in those who are not treated quickly with antibiotics.

“There is currently no vaccine against Lyme disease — though there are active research programs working to develop one. So the chief means of preventing Lyme disease is the meticulous avoidance of tick bites,” said Adalja.

You can minimize your risk by avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, walking in the center of trails, and using repellents that contain 20 percent to 30 percent DEET, add health officials.

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