Climate change is impacting the spread of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses.
Lyme disease—that’s the illness you can get when you’re hiking in the woods in the summer, right?
Yes, but that’s not the only place, or time, you can get Lyme or other tick-borne diseases. Thanks to factors like climate change, cases of Lyme and co-infections have exploded. Ticks come out in warmer months in search of a blood meal from a human or animal. Now that temperatures are rising, these warmer months come earlier and last longer than they used to. The black-legged ticks that transmit Lyme disease can’t survive in below-freezing temperatures, but with less days and locations with wintry weather, tick season has grown longer. Even if you’re out for a walk on a balmy January day, you can get a tick bite.
And this walk doesn’t have to be in the woods for you to be at risk. Regions that used to be inhospitable to ticks due to long winters have become fertile nesting grounds for them. Ticks are moving further north, and to higher elevations. They’re now prevalent up and down the Eastern seaboard, along the Pacific coast, and in the upper Midwest, and Lyme disease has been reported in every state. Other types of ticks, which can cause other illnesses, are also on the move.
Black-legged ticks need moisture to survive, so the rainy summer has been great for them, but not good news for humans and their pets. Ticks live not just in the woods but in other moist, shady places like wood piles, leaf litter, long grass, beach grass, bushy areas, stone walls, and perimeters where the lawn meets the woods. Whether you’re having a backyard barbecue or strolling through beach dunes, you should take proper prevention measures against ticks, and be aware of what to do if you find one or if you develop symptoms of tick-borne illness.
Preventing Tick Bites
The best way to avoid Lyme and other tick-borne disease is to Be Tick AWARE. This means:
- AVOID areas where ticks live.
- WEAR light-colored clothing to spot ticks more easily, such as long-sleeved shirt tucked in at the waist, long pants tucked into high socks, closed-toe shoes, and a hat with your hair tucked in. Do not walk in the grass barefoot or in open sandals, even if it’s a shortcut.
- APPLY EPA-approved tick repellent (such as DEET or picaridin) to skin and insecticide (such as permethrin) to clothing and shoes as directed.
- REMOVE clothing upon entering the home and toss into the dryer at high temperature for 10-15 minutes to kill live ticks (putting them in the washer won’t work).
- EXAMINE yourself and your pets for ticks daily. Feel for bumps paying close attention the back of knees, groin, armpits, in and behind the ears, belly button, and scalp.
What To Do If You Find a Tick or Develop Symptoms
Ticks are very tiny and can be hard to spot, but if you find one on yourself, remove it properly by following these steps:
- Remove the tick with a tick removal tool or tweezers. Get as close to the skin as possible, being careful to get the head—pull the tick straight up—and immediately clean the site of the bite with antiseptic or soap. Don’t twist or agitate the tick, or touch it; place it in a sealable bag or vial with date of removal.
- Get the tick tested to identify its species and diseases it may be carrying. This information can aid in your diagnosis. It will also help researchers learn more about tick habitats and patterns. Ask the lab to test for Lyme disease and other tick-borne pathogens.
- Monitor your bite site closely. Take a picture of the site of the bite as soon as possible. If you see any changes, take additional pictures. This is helpful to share with your doctor. Draw a circle around the bite to easily track a rash that may start from the bite. Watch the site and other parts of your body to see if a rash develops for about a week or more. It’s important to note, though, that many people with Lyme disease don’t get or see a rash.
If you are bitten by a tick or if you develop symptoms of Lyme disease—especially if you’ve spent time outdoors—contact your doctor right away. Early intervention is critical to avoid serious complications of tick-borne illness.
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The above material is provided for information purposes only. The material (a) is not nor should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor (b) does it necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of Global Lyme Alliance, Inc. or any of its directors, officers, advisors or volunteers. Advice on the testing, treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.