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What you need to know about ticks and Lyme disease to keep you safe

Forget about staying 6 feet apart: Ticks go after blood at the most difficult to reach places on the human body.

And the area where Lyme disease exists is expanding.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is now high exposure in states in the Middle East, Northeast and the Atlantic.

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And while it’s still too early to say how bad ticks will be this year, some indicators point to a population increase at the beginning of the season in the United States. Reported sightings of ticks via the University of Rhode Island’s survey of crowdSourced TickSpotters increased by 80% in March compared to last year.
This does not necessarily mean that the tick population increased by so much. The program’s director, entomologist Thomas Mather – you could call him “The Tick Guy” – said the increase could reflect higher numbers of ticks, people spending more time outside or a combination of the two factors.

The tick population will probably vary during the season anyway, says Mather, who is a professor in the Department of Plant Science and Entomology at the University of Rhode Island. “What we see in real time is not always a good forecast for what can happen a month or two months from now.”

In April and May, the reports were closer to what Mather saw in 2019. But even though the tick count remains stable for the rest of the warm months, encounters with the small arachnids will remain a serious issue.

Not only can ticks carry Lyme disease, they can also cause other diseases. If left untreated, some of these can be fatal to both humans and pets.

And when sunny days send people outside to breathe fresh air in the middle of the pandemic, the risk of suffering from tick-borne illnesses or infections increases where ticks can be found. Here’s what you need to know if you keep tick guard this year.

What are the most serious tick-borne diseases?

Worrying about the coronavirus pandemic does not mean that other threats have disappeared.

“There are many tick-borne pathogens that are increasing,” said Allison Gardner, a medical entomologist and assistant professor of arthropod vector biology at the University of Maine.
Gardner noted that the United States is fighting the parasite infection babesiosis. there are also in Europe.
Bacterial disease anaplasmosis is also an important issue in the United States and has become a more serious threat over the past two decades. More than 6,000 cases were reported to the CDC in 2018, from 348 cases in 2000, when data for the disease were first collected.
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As with Lyme disease, early symptoms of anaplasmosis include fever, chills, headaches and muscle aches. Antibiotics are effective against anaplasmosis, but if not treated, the disease can be fatal. Those with impaired immune systems are particularly at risk.

In Europe, viral tick-borne encephalitis is a problem, with 3,092 confirmed cases in EU countries 2018. There is an effective vaccine against the disease, which can cause fever, headache, paralysis and cramps. (Other tick-borne diseases in Europe include tick-borne relapsing fever, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and patches of the Mediterranean.)

However, the most common tick-borne danger in both the United States and Europe is still due to Lyme disease. And the vast majority of cases can go undetected.

About 30,000 diagnoses of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC each year, but the agency estimates that actual cases in the United States may be ten times higher than that. A 2016 report in the Journal of Public Health estimated 85,000 annual cases of Lyme in Europe, noting that reporting is inconsistent and that many of these cases are probably undiagnosed.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, headaches, muscle pain and a distinct rash from the bull’s-eye that expands from the bite itself. (Although a rash is a well-known sign of the infection, it occurs in 70% to 80% of cases.)

If left untreated, Lyme disease symptoms can eventually be aggravated to include facial paralysis, palpitations and severe joint pain.

Keep cross protection outdoors

Gardner, the University of Maine medical entomologist, spends his days in the field drawing a brightly colored cloth through attachment environments. The ticks take hold of the fabric, where their dark bodies are clearly visible.

It is a research trick that you can customize to protect yourself. “Light-colored clothes can make it easier to see the ticks on you,” said Gardner, whose work often puts her in close contact with the small creatures.

Another way to protect against ticks is to put pants in socks. Because ticks creep up from the ground, it is easier to see them before slipping under your clothes.

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Treating clothing and shoes with insect repellent permethrin can also be effective, especially when combined with a DEET-containing insect repellent used on the skin.
There are also ways to protect the area outside your home from ticks. The University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter Resource Center recommends a variety of home projects, starting with raking leaves, cutting low-hanging branches and cutting back bushes.
The kind of plants you have in the yard also means. Studies in the United States have found particularly high tick numbers in place with the invasive plants of Japanese barberry and bush honeysuckle, both of which were introduced as ornamental plants.

“Removing these invasive plants in the landscape has the added benefit of inhibiting exposure to tick-borne pathogens,” Gardner said.

Are you looking for ticks – and what to do if you find one

Even if you exercise accurate fortress security when you are out, it is important to inspect yourself and your children for ticks when you return.

That means full-body control: Collaborate with someone who can inspect every corner of your body, or use a hand-held mirror to look at hard-to-see places. Some places where it is easy to miss ticks are the ears, inside the stomach, under the arms and on the back of the knees.

(A careful check should take a minute or two – long enough to listen to some verses of “Ticks,” a Brad Paisley song that is the unofficial anthem about the vector’s safety for the disease.
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Rinsing away can also help. If you shower within two hours of it coming in, it can reduce the risk of Lyme disease, according to the CDC. When it is hit with water, unmounted ticks can simply wash down the drain.
It is a good idea to also check your clothes. If you are worried there may still be ticks on your clothes, drying them for 10 minutes at high heat will kill all hangers, because washing alone will not do the trick.
If you find a tick on your skin, it is important to remove it as soon as possible.
Have a pair of fine-tuned tweezers on hand and use them to grasp the tick near the skin and pull it off with a steady, soft pressure. (This CDC fact sheet shows the process in more detail.)

If you develop a rash or fever within a few weeks of finding a tick, contact your health care provider.

In areas with a high incidence of Lyme disease, it is a good idea to check in anyway; Depending on how long the tick has been attached or embedded, the supplier may recommend further treatment or monitoring.

How about your pets?

There are two considerations when it comes to pets and fortress security: protecting them and making sure that you are not exposed to ticks that they bring into the home.

Have a plan to protect your companion from tick-borne diseases.
In the United States, dogs are susceptible to tick-borne Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spot Fever, hepatozoonosis, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. European dog owners also have to watch out for babesios.

Some of these diseases can be fatal.

Fortunately, dogs can be vaccinated against the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. (Even during the pandemic, many veterinarians are open to treatments, including vaccinations.)
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In order to protect against other threats, the University of Rhode Island’s Tick Encounter recommends combining vaccination with additional preventative treatments.

Cats do not appear to be susceptible to Lyme disease. In the southern United States, however, they can catch the tick-borne Cytauxzoon felis, a parasitic disease that is often fatal. To protect your cat and your household, it is important to use an attachment prevention treatment if the animal spends time outdoors.

For both cats and dogs, as well as for humans, a thorough visual check is also a good way to check for ticks. (Read CDC tips for removing ticks from pets here.)

It’s a habit that will protect your pet, while preventing arachnids from attaching themselves to a vulnerable human food source: You.

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