- Experts are expecting an increase in Lyme disease cases this year as people return to the outdoors.
- They note that ticks generally live in grassy and bushy areas, so they recommend people stay in the middle of trails when hiking.
- They also advise doing a full-body check for ticks when you return home and carefully remove any you see on your skin.
Dr. Neal Shipley warns the United States will see an uptick in Lyme disease this year.
Yes, he did mean to make that pun.
That’s because experts are expecting an increase in tick-borne illness this summer for many reasons.
“First, people have spent the last 12 to 15 months staying indoors and the negative psychological effects of social isolation on adults and children are very real,” Shipley, the medical director at GoHealth Urgent Care in New York, told Healthline. “The ‘cure’ is right in front of us: getting outdoors and doing all the things we couldn’t do last summer, such as camping, gardening, hiking, going to the beach with friends, and having a picnic in the park.”
However, Shipley warns that “all of these activities could put you at risk for a tick bite if you don’t take the proper precautions.”
Ticks are bloodsucking arachnids that can be as small as the head of a pin or as large as a pencil eraser. With eight legs, they look like a smaller version of a spider. They can range in color from reddish-brown to black.
As they engorge themselves on blood, they grow and can turn a greenish-blue color.
Ticks also can carry disease via viruses, bacteria, and parasites, according to Dr. David Cutler, a family practitioner at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
“Tick exposure can occur year-round, but ticks are most active during warmer months, April through September,” Cutler told Healthline. “Know where to expect ticks: grassy, bushy, or wooded areas, or even on animals. Many people get ticks in their own yard or neighborhood.”
Tick-related illnesses are already on the rise, says Dr. Jyotsna Shah, the president and laboratory director of IGeneX Inc.
“While we have a long way to go, there is a larger general awareness of Lyme disease in the medical community, and doctors now know how to test for it,” Shah told Healthline. “Not only is our lab testing a record number of patients this year, but we have also seen an increase in the number of ticks tested compared to last year.”
Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, according to the
Typical symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Experts also note Lyme isn’t the only
“The number of diseases spread by ticks is second only to the number of diseases spread by mosquitos,” says Dr. David Claborn, the director of the Master of Public Health program at Missouri State University. “They include tularemia, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, Q fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, Powassan virus, and more.”
“Symptoms for these diseases can range from relatively mild febrile illnesses to hemorrhage, blindness, and death,” Claborn told Healthline. “In the United States, the biggest risk is due to Lyme disease but ehrlichiosis is probably more common than most people think, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be very serious.”
Tick-borne illnesses, however, are preventable, according to Dr. Dean Jacobs, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Medical Group in Santa Ana, California.
“Ticks love to hide on kids in and around their hair and their ears, under their arms, near their groin, between their legs and behind their knees, and around their waist,” Jacobs told Healthline. “Ticks frequently prefer areas that are warm and damp. But some of their favorite hiding spots can be even tougher to find. Be sure to check in your child’s belly button, on their clothing, and don’t forget to also check your child’s pet dog who came on the hike with you.”
Jacobs said insect repellent is always a good idea outdoors. Hikers should also stay in the middle of trails, away from grass and foliage where ticks live.
Taking preventive measures when you return indoors is key.
“Immediately do a full-body check for ticks and have your child take a shower or bath after coming inside, to help eliminate ticks before they bite,” Jacobs said. “Putting dry clothes in a dryer for at least 10 minutes on high heat, or up to 60 minutes on high heat if the clothes were wet, also helps kill ticks.”
“If you find a tick on [you or] your child, do not panic. If the tick is not attached to the skin and is not engorged, then it hasn’t bitten your child and you don’t need to worry,” he added.
But you still need to be remove ticks you find on yourself, your child, or your pets.
“Try covering the tick for at least 30 seconds with a cotton ball that has been soaked in liquid soap,” Jacobs said. “Sometimes the tick will just stick to the cotton ball when you lift it away. If this fails, hold clean sterilized fine-tipped tweezers parallel to the skin and use the tweezers to grab the tick on its head as close to the skin as possible. Be careful not to grasp or squeeze the tick’s body. Pull the tick straight upward away from the skin without twisting or smashing it, until the tick releases its grasp.”
Then keep it in case you notice symptoms and the type of tick needs to be identified.