May is Lyme disease awareness month and it’s perfect timing to think about prevention as the weather warms up and people spend more time outdoors. Before you go out in the woods this spring and fall it’s important to take measures to prevent tick bites and to always check yourself thoroughly once home.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans primarily through the bites of infected blacklegged ticks (deer ticks). It is the fastest growing vector-borne infectious disease in the United States according to the CDC. A vector-borne disease is one that results from an infection transmitted to humans and other animals by blood-feeding anthropods such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. While Lyme disease occurs in Colorado, it’s underreported. This is because it’s not mandatory to report Lyme disease and there is a belief by the medical community that it does not exist in Colorado.
Lyme Disease: Getting the Facts
- In the last ten years, deer ticks have significantly expanded their range. Forty-three states within the continental US have established or reported blacklegged tick populations. Blacklegged ticks are also native to Europe, northern Asia, northern Africa and South America.
- Lyme disease is transmitted mostly by the nymphal deer tick. At this stage, the ticks are the size of a period at the end of a sentence. Due to their tiny size, many people are not aware when they’ve been bitten by a tick and may not make the connection.
- A patient’s residence does not necessarily reflect his or her Lyme disease risk. People travel, pets travel, and ticks travel (migratory birds carry ticks over great distances). For example,new research shows that Lyme disease-carrying ticks have been found in abundance near beaches in Northern California.
- The CDC has announced that the number of people diagnosed each year with Lyme disease has climbed to nearly half a million, specifically 476,000, which is a jump of 59% over the estimate of 300,000 previously given by the CDC.
- Lyme disease affects all age groups, with particularly high occurrences among children, especially ages 5-14, and adults 45-64. There is a slight male predominance in early infection.
- Lyme disease has the potential to lead to chronic illness if not treated quickly and properly.
Lyme Disease Prevention
Here’s what you should be aware of when outdoors during tick season:
- Ticks can be found anywhere but mostly wooded areas
- Perform frequent, thorough tick checks on yourself
- Wear light-colored clothes, long sleeves, and long pants
- Tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants
- Put clothes in dryer for 30 minutes to kill ticks that may be clinging to clothing
- Shower soon after returning indoors
- If wearing shorts, use a pet hair removal roller on your legs. The sticky tape will pull off small nymphal deer ticks which are hard to see
- Check your pets for ticks frequently
Tick Repellent Tips
Know your tick repellent products and the best way to arm yourself against Lyme disease-causing ticks:
- Any product containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone can be used for skin protection
- Products containing Permethrin can be used for treating clothing and gear
- Look for clothes which protect against ticks (e.g., www.rynoskin.com)
Since Lyme disease has the potential to cause chronic debilitating disease in some, prevention is your best defense.