Along with hot and sunny weather, summer also brings out a few tiny pests that can ruin the season.
As more people venture outdoors and into the wilderness it can mean more cases of tick-borne illnesses, especially Lyme disease.
That bacterial infection has been rapidly increasing with probable and confirmed cases of the disease rising from 10,000 cases in 1995 to more than 25,000 in 2015.
While early symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue, and the distinctive “bull’s-eye” rash, some people may not exhibit symptoms and therefore may not be diagnosed early.
The bacterial infection can infect the joints, heart, or nervous system if left untreated.
However, you may have more time than you think to prevent the disease from gaining a foothold in your body.
A new threat
Today, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data on a newly discovered bacteria called Borrelia mayonii, which has been found to cause Lyme disease.
The researchers wanted to see if these new bacteria could infect people in less time after a tick attaches than the common Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.
With B. burgdorferi, it usually takes between 36 to 48 hours after a tick bite for a human to contract Lyme disease.
The CDC researchers exposed 160 mice to ticks at the “nymph” stage of development. Ninety-one of the mice were bitten by ticks infected with B. mayonii.
The mice were then tested at 24, 48, and 72 hours after the tick initially started feeding. They also tested the mice after the tick fully finished feeding, usually around four to five days after the initial bite.
Similar to other tick-borne diseases, the mice showed no signs of infection 24 and 48 hours after being bitten. However, the risk quickly went up from there.
At 72 hours, 31 percent of the mice were infected, and after the tick finished feeding, 57 percent of the mice were infected.
“Our findings underscore the importance of finding and removing ticks as soon as possible after they bite,” Lars Eisen, PhD, CDC research entomologist, and senior author of the study, said in a statement.
The recently discovered bacteria was only confirmed as a new species last year after six people were diagnosed in Minnesota. Eisen said that the new findings underscore the need to learn more about the different bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
“There is much still to discover about B. mayonii, including to clarify the geographic range of this emerging human pathogen in the U.S., to determine how commonly different life stages of the blacklegged tick are infected with B. mayonii, and to find out whether the same vertebrate animals that serve as natural reservoirs for B. burgdorferi play the same role also for B. mayonii,” said Eisen.
Early detection is key
Stephen Morse, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said that the findings were “reassuring.”
“The general wisdom about it was even if you didn’t find the tick immediately it would take about 48 hours,” to contract Lyme disease, said Morse. “This seems to be true here, too.”
Morse said the data can help to inform people on how to enjoy the outdoors safely.
He pointed out that in areas with high numbers of ticks, people may need to take precautions even if they just go into their own backyards.
“If you’ve got a nice backyard, [you can] use that mosquito repellent or bug repellent,” he said.
In addition, there are “obviously the usual precautions of don’t leave a lot of exposed skin, and be careful if you're climbing [in] the underbrush.”
Tips for staying safe
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, explained that since tick bites aren’t usually painful, it’s important to do a tick check after going outdoors to decrease the risk of Lyme disease.
“If you can find them in short order and then take them off ... obviously your risk of acquiring infection — even if the tick was infected — goes way down,” he told Healthline.
Schaffner said ticks tend to feed in sheltered areas such as the hairline, underarms, and groin area.
If you want more advice on avoiding these potentially dangerous pests the CDC has lots of advice available.
Among their recommendations is avoiding brushy areas or trails that are heavily wooded, since the ticks can quickly transfer from a leaf to a hiker.
Bug repellant that contains at least 20 percent DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 can diminish the risk of a tick bite.
If you want extra protection on your clothes you can treat them with permethrin.
Once back indoors the CDC recommends taking a shower to more easily find ticks that could be crawling, and also putting clothes through a hot dryer cycle to kill the insects.
To remove a tick safely don’t just pull it out with your fingers. Instead use tweezers to firmly grasp the insect and pull up quickly. Don’t use nail polish or petroleum jelly to try and force the tick to detach since that can take longer than simply removing the insect.
Remember, if you’ve been in the great outdoors in recent days or weeks and start to have symptoms of a fever, aches, pains, and a bull’s-eye rash, get tested for Lyme disease.
It can mean the difference between having symptoms for a few days or weeks or having lingering symptoms for months or even years.