Tick-Borne Diseases Are on the Rise

Tick-borne diseases have been steadily rising in the United States, with Lyme disease being the most common.

The number of Americans getting sick each year by bites from infected ticks has more than doubled from 2004 to 2016—the most recent year of available data, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to people through the bite of infected black-legged ticks.  If left untreated, infection can spread to the heart, the nervous system and joints, potentially causing more serious issues, said Dr. David Schwartz, Chair of Infectious Diseases at Cook County Health & Hospitals System.

“Yet, antibiotics are usually effective for most people in treating Lyme disease, if it’s caught early,” Dr. Schwartz said.

Symptoms—which can include fever, chills, headache or a rash that resembles a red bull’s-eye—usually appear within a week after a tick has bitten you.

“Black-legged ticks, or deer ticks as they’re also called, typically need to be attached to someone for at least 24 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease,” Dr. Schwartz said.  “If you find a tick on you, you should carefully remove it with fine-tipped tweezers.  Then seek medical attention.”

Ticks are especially common in warmer months, and they are usually found in heavy forest areas.

But Dr. Schwartz noted that “ticks can also be found in gardens, too, and other places where you see white-tailed deer, since deer are often the primary hosts for adult black-legged ticks.”

To stay safe, it’s recommended that you check for ticks if you’ve been walking or hiking in the woods or if you’ve been in an area of high grass.  You should also wear light-colored clothing to make a tick easier to spot and wear long sleeves and long pants that can be tucked into your shoes.

In addition, you should spray your skin and clothing with insect repellant, like DEET or permethrin.