Tickborne diseases are on the rise and prevention should be on everyone’s mind, particularly during the spring, summer, and early-fall when ticks are most active. From May through July, people will get more tick bites and tickborne diseases than any other time of year in the United States. It’s especially important to take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones (including pets) from ticks during this season, as well as any time during warmer months when you’re outside.
Many people do not know they are at risk. Each year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported nationwide, while studies suggest the actual number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is more likely about 300,000. Despite these numbers, a recent national survey reported that nearly 20 percent of people surveyed in areas where Lyme disease is common were unaware that it was a risk. Additionally, half of the people interviewed in another study reported that they did not routinely take steps to protect themselves against tick bites during warm weather.
No sure way to predict how bad a season will be
Preventing Lyme and other tickborne diseases is important every year. Predicting the number of Lyme disease or other tickborne infections, and how an upcoming season will compare to previous years, is complicated. Ticks that spread the disease to people can have up to 2 to 3-year lifecycles, and many factors can affect their numbers, including temperature, rainfall, humidity, and the number of available hosts for the ticks to feed on, such as mice, deer, and other animals. In any given year, the number of ticks in an area will be different from region to region, state to state, and even county to county.
Know the risk
What is known is that regardless of the number of ticks this year, people should be aware that ticks could be in the areas where they live, work and play. Everyone should take steps to help protect themselves and their loved ones, including pets, While not all ticks carry the same diseases, ticks can be found in every state. Throughout the continental United States, some diseases occur more frequently in some areas than others:
- Lyme disease risk is focused in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest, with pockets of lower risk along the west coast. However, the range of the tick that transmits Lyme disease also is expanding. While nearly 95 percent of Lyme disease cases occur in 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, infected ticks can also be found in neighboring states and in some areas of Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
- Other less known, but serious tick-borne diseases include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus, and babesiosis. These diseases tend to be concentrated in specific parts of the country. Babesiosis and anaplasmosis occur in the same areas as Lyme disease—mainly in the Northeast and upper Midwest. More than 60 percent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases occur in five states: Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
Take steps to protect against ticks
Taking steps to protect yourself and your family from getting a tick bite is the best defense against Lyme disease and other tickborne infections. Whether you’re working, enjoying your yard, camping, hiking, hunting or otherwise in the outdoors, CDC recommends that people:
- Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. EPA’s helpful search tool can help you find the product that best suits your needs. Always follow product instructions.
- Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.
- Treat dogs for ticks. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and to some tick-borne diseases. They may also bring ticks into your home. Talk to your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your dog.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.
- Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.