Are you going to the beach this summer? Along with your sunscreen, you might want to carry some bug spray in your beach bag, why? You must have heard about what Lyme disease is?
For those trying to prevent Lyme disease in the United States, the summer of 2021 promises to be challenging.
First, according to Pests.org, the weather in many areas of the country is expected to be perfect for tick breeding. According to the organization, forecasts for above-average rainfall in the Northeast and Southwest have increased the risk of Lyme disease.
Predictions for higher-than-normal rainfall and air temperatures in the Midwest will undoubtedly increase tick populations.
The bacterium that causes Lyme disease is not carried by all ticks. But a rise in the number of ticks means a higher chance of encountering one infected.
COVID-19 complicates matters even more. After being locked up at home for months due to COVID-19, individuals are eager to get outside and maybe less aware of the tick threat.
Moreover, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection carried by the bites of black-legged ticks (commonly known as deer ticks). And it has many coronavirus infection symptoms. According to LymeDisease.org, these symptoms include fever and fatigue — similarities that can hamper accurate diagnosis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the United States each summer. Still, the disease may impact up to 10 times that number because many people are unaware of it.
What Climate Change Means for Lyme Disease
Climate change will have the following impacts on Lyme disease:
- Rapid tick development
- Prolonged tick development
- Higher egg production
- Higher population density
- A larger range of risk areas
The perfect environment for these disease-carrying ticks is one with an average humidity of 85% and a temperature over 45°F.
Using its thermoreceptors, the tick identifies a suitable microclimate. Once the larvae have molted into the nymphal stage, they hibernate until spring. Because an adult tick no longer needs to hibernate throughout the winter, these ticks may become active on warm winter days. This results in a larger nymph population the following year. Ticks in their nymphal stage will become active earlier when the winter thaws earlier. Warmer winters will also increase the survival rate of the white-footed mouse, a popular tick host. This means a higher tick population in the spring and summer.
Why are experts worried about Lyme disease during the pandemic?
When the country went into lockdown, Richard Ostfeld, who has researched tick populations year after year, was concerned.
Ostfeld is a scientist at Millbrook, New York’s Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. He expressed two concerns about how the COVID pandemic may be affecting Lyme disease.
One possibility is that the increasing amount of time people spend outside, mostly in and around their neighbourhoods, increases the likelihood of encountering a tick. People who develop Lyme are generally exposed to ticks in their neighborhoods rather than on vacations to the woods, according to Ostfeld.
Another concern was that many people experiencing Lyme disease symptoms but not respiratory symptoms might be reluctant to seek medical attention due to the fear of being exposed to COVID at the doctor’s office/clinic. This might lead to undiagnosed and untreated cases. It can make Lyme disease much more dangerous and difficult to treat later on.
What you should know about ticks
Ticks are blood-sucking arachnids that range in size from the size of a pinhead to the size of a pencil eraser. They have eight legs and look like a smaller form of a spider. So, they might be reddish-brown to black.
They grow and can turn a greenish-blue tint as they feast on blood. Also, ticks can carry diseases through viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
Tick exposure can occur all year. But ticks are most active during the warmer months of April through September. You can find ticks in grassy, bushy, or wooded areas, as well as on animals. Many people get bitten by ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The tick bite site will create a “bullseye” rash, which will grow in size over the next few days. Some people have no memory of having a tick bite or rash. If such rashes occur during the summer, they should raise the possibility of Lyme disease. Flu-like symptoms, fever and chills, severe tiredness, headaches, muscle, and joint pain are common in the first few weeks.
Extreme fatigue, new skin rashes as the infection spreads, numbness in arms and legs, “brain fog,” inability to control muscles in the face, and chest pains can occur over 1-4 months.
Symptoms of a late diagnosis may include:
- Joint inflammation
- Hands, foot, or back numbness and tingling
- Extreme tiredness
- Partial facial nerve paralysis
- Memory, mood, or sleep difficulties
Those who did not have a rash, heart, nervous system, and joint problems are among the earliest signs of the disease.
How to Lower Your Lyme Disease Risk
According to experts, there are precautions you can take to reduce your risks of getting bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease.
Here are five easy steps to help you ‘Be Tick AWARE’ and protect yourself and your pets from Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases:
- Stay away from tick-infested areas such as grassy, brushy, or wooded areas
- Properly dressed in light-coloured clothing, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and socks tucked into pants
- Choose an EPA-approved repellent (such as Picaridin or DEET) on your skin and permethrin on your clothing and shoes as directed
- When you get home, take off your clothes and put them in the dryer at a high temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before washing
- Ticks should be checked on a daily basis on both you and your pets. Ticks like to hide, so look everywhere
- After being outside, take a shower as soon as feasible
Treatment for Lyme disease
Depending on the stage of the infection, you can use different antibiotics to treat the disease. For early-stage Lyme disease, you can take an oral antibiotic. Doxycycline, Amoxicillin, or Cefuroxime are the most commonly used antibiotics for adults and children over the age of eight. You should take the antibiotic for two to three weeks.
An intravenous antibiotic is used in more severe forms of Lyme disease. The treatment lasts between 14 and 28 days. This is a more intense treatment that helps eliminate the infection. It may take more to recover from symptoms. However, there are certain side effects to this more aggressive treatment. These include:
- A lower white blood cell count
- Infection with antibiotic-resistant organisms that are unrelated to Lyme disease
- Mild to severe diarrhea
The Bottom Line
Fortunately, for anyone concerned about ticks in the present, there are some practical steps you may take to avoid ticks. Wear bug repellant and layers of protection. Smith advises staying on the path instead of straying into the dense underbrush. When you go home from an adventure, wash your clothes and check yourself for ticks. If you get a fever a few days later, contact your doctor, and be sure to note that you’ve been spending time outside.