With the milder than normal winter, ticks are already out putting you and your pets in danger of Lyme disease and other tick borne infections. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and published in the Journal of Medical Entomology shows that over the past 20 years, the eastern and western blacklegged tick population has grown to encompass nearly half of all counties in the United States and has a strong presence right here in Connecticut. This is why around 300,000 people are now diagnosed with Lyme disease each year.
Counties across the country have conducted tick surveillance going back to 1996 and the CDC identified counties as having at least six black-legged tick sightings in a year as having an established tick population. They found that the eastern black legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) has doubled its range in the past 20 years and is now in 46% of US counties while the western black-legged tick (I. pacificus) has remained about the same at 4% of counties. More disturbing, in the Northeast, the risk of Lyme disease from tick bites is up over 300% from the 1990s.
The CDC has many tips for preventing tick bites on their website at CDC.com and the main tips include avoiding areas of thick vegetation if possible and if you cannot, wearing long sleeves and long pants, tucking your pants legs into your socks, applying 0.5% permethrin spray to clothing and outdoor gear, and using 20% DEET products on skin or clothes to avoid tick bites. Equally as important, when you come back after a trip through the woods, check yourself and your pets for ticks and bathe or shower right away. Even if you are bitten by a tick it will be a day or two before Lyme disease is passed into your body so you have a window where you can remove the tick without increasing your risk of infection. If you haven’t noticed a tick that has been on you for more than 48 hours or you do not know how long it has been there, remove the tick and call your doctor because early use of antibiotics can prevent the serious symptoms of Lyme disease such as stiffened painful joints from occurring and you might just get a mild rash.
Dr. Michael White, UConn School of Pharmacy