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How to Protect Yourself From Tick Bites and Lyme Disease

0 2 years ago

Some people who live with Lyme disease go without a proper medical diagnosis for months or even years. Many have lingering symptoms.

Lyme disease is an illness caused by bacteria transmitted to humans through the bites of certain species of ticks, including deer ticks, aka black-legged ticks, in the US (Ixodes scapularis or Ixodes pacificus). And while it’s been underdiagnosed or even misunderstood by the medical community, experts are warning the insects that cause it are a growing problem throughout the US.

Traditionally, Lyme disease thought of as a problem in the wooded Northeastern region of the US. Last year, however, reports started showing that Lyme disease is a growing problem in most parts of the country, including California and even urban areas.

Dr. James Marvel, an emergency medicine doctor at Stanford Health Care and wilderness medicine expert, has researched the contributing factors to the spread of Lyme disease in the US. In a July CNET interview, he said that data over the last few decades shows that Lyme disease has “blossomed” in a number of US states and counties, particularly in the Northeast.

“There’s some suspicion that climate variables are contributing to it, especially in the context of global warming,” so the environment may be more favorable for ticks, Marvel said. However, ticks have a two-year life cycle, he said, which makes it difficult to track.

“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘One hot day means there’s going to be more ticks,'” he explained.

Other factors, like people expanding construction into wooded, tick-filled environments, may also be contributing to an increase in incidents of Lyme disease, Marvel said. Dr. Andres Bran, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Missouri Health Care, said in a 2021 CNET interview that the pandemic may have led more people outdoors and caused them to engage in activities that would expose them to tick bites, such as hiking.

“You’re seeing a shift toward going out in order to be socially distant,” Bran said.

If caught early enough, Lyme disease can be treated, but failing to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment on time can lead to lasting illness. There are support groups and online forums filled with people who live with Lyme disease, and an International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society dedicated to improving the medical and scientific communities’ understanding of Lyme disease — including treatments for those who continue to suffer.

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