3 things you should know about Lyme disease

Over the past 25 years, reports of Lyme disease have increased steadily with estimated annual cases exceeding 300,000 - a number that is likely severely underreported. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recognizes 18 tick-borne pathogens in the United States and, despite many scientific unknowns, experts agree that the incidence and distribution of tick-borne diseases are increasing.

Due to difficulties in diagnostics and testing, plus additional unknown factors, anywhere 10 to 20% of patients suffer from persistent symptoms even after treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical. Because of this, we feel everyone should have a minimum amount of knowledge about Lyme disease to reduce your risk and stay safe. 

1) Know Where Ticks Are

Lyme disease is no longer an "East Coast problem." Bay Area Lyme Foundation recently released results from the first citizen-scientist tick-study where they tested a sample of more than 16,000 ticks collected from 49 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. The study found ticks capable of carrying Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in 83 counties (in 24 states) where these ticks had not been previously recorded. 

Mary Beth Pfeiffer writes in her book, "Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change", that:

"Lyme disease is distinctive as the first disease to emerge in North America, Europe and China in the age of climate change, the first to become entrenched, widespread and consequential to multitudes of people. It is growing, too, in places such as Australia, where residents are told, as they were in southern Canada and still are in many parts of the US, Canada and Europe, that they must have some other illness besides Lyme disease or, if not, they contracted the infection somewhere else."

Pro Tip: Download the TickTracker Mobile App to report and view tick sightings in your area.

2) Be Aware Anytime You Are Outdoors

Hikers, backpackers, farmers, hunters, veterans and migrant workers are all at an increased risk for exposure to Lyme. Children may also be at a higher risk from their time spent playing outdoors and unlikelihood of noticing a tick bite.

Ticks are also found in urban and suburban areas so always checking for tick bites is the best preventative measure. Tick repellent is also a good option if you plan to spend prolonged periods of time doors. Any product with DEET or Permethrin should do the trick. You can also buy clothing pre-treated with permethrin for hiking and camping.

3) Watch for Early Symptoms

The tricky thing about Lyme disease is the early symptoms are not always identifiable. We now know that the classic circular or bullseye rash appears in less than 50% of cases - so it is important to watch for other symptoms if you may have been exposed to a tick bite. These include:

  • Headaches or stiff neck
  • Flu-like ailments, including fever or chills
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Profound fatigue or lack of energy
  • A small bump or redness at tick bite
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Read more here about Lyme disease symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections there are many resources available to you. Check out Bay Area Lyme Foundation, Global Lyme Alliance, Lymedisease.org and International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society as a good start. 

Shannon Herline