You may have noticed that Lyme disease has become a popular news topic in recent years. A number of celebrities have contracted it, which makes it worth talking about. But its seeming prominence is more than just the latest news trend. Studies show that cases of Lyme disease have actually tripled over the last two decades. What’s going on? And how can you keep yourself safe from it?
Why Lyme Disease Is Increasing
Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks, also called black-legged ticks. It’s not contagious—the disease can only be spread by being bitten. Furthermore, the tick usually has to be attached for at least a day and a half to two days in order to have any effect. So what’s causing this sudden rise in Lyme disease cases?
There’s some debate as to the root cause, but there are a number of factors at work. For one thing, deer populations have increased in recent years. This has, in turn, caused a rise in the population of deer ticks, whose numbers have doubled over the last 20 years. More deer ticks mean more opportunities to get bitten.
Some believe that climate change is exacerbating the problem as well. When the weather is warmer, ticks are able to mature faster, which means they’re significantly younger when they begin to bite. More ticks, maturing faster, means more opportunities to infect people with Lyme disease.
Another reason may simply be that people are recognizing and reporting the disease more often. While this does result in an increased number of cases, it’s still a good thing, as it means more people are catching the disease in time and getting the treatment they need.
Since ticks have to be attached for so long before they can transmit it, Lyme disease may seem like a difficult disease to contract. But often, ticks can attach themselves unnoticed, to areas of your body that are hard to see, such as your groin, armpits, or scalp. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the danger and to protect yourself.
The first step is to try to avoid being bitten. When going outside in wooded areas, areas with tall grass, or other places where deer ticks tend to live, cover yourself up. Wear long sleeves, tuck your pant legs into your socks, and even wear a hat and gloves, just in case. Limit the amount of skin you have exposed, and use insect repellent to ward off ticks.
When you return from any forays into potential deer tick territory, check yourself thoroughly for ticks. You may even ask a loved one to help you, just to make sure. If you find any ticks, grasp them gently but firmly near the mouth (not by the body) and pull them out, being careful to remove the entire tick, rather than allowing its head to break off and remain in your body. Put the tick in plastic and place it in the freezer, just in case you need to identify it later.
If You Do Get Infected…
Be on the lookout for symptoms of Lyme disease. They include headaches, muscle aches, fever, fatigue, and in some cases a rash. They can appear anywhere from a few days to a full month after the tick bite, so be vigilant. If you do notice any of the symptoms, go to the doctor immediately (and bring the tick you saved).
As long as the disease is caught early, it can be treated fairly easily, with a round of antibiotics. However, if it’s not caught right away, it can get worse, causing nerve pain, memory loss, facial palsy, and eventually even death.
It’s been said that Lyme disease is easy to cure, but difficult to detect. That difficulty is one of the things that makes it so dangerous. Fortunately, with a little preparation and a little vigilance, the disease is completely preventable. As diagnosed cases continue to increase, do what you can to protect yourself against this terrible illness.