Lyme disease is a threat to people and their pets, especially as people spend more time outdoors in these warmer months.
For Lyme Disease Awareness Month this May, Fox News Digital spoke to health experts about ways to lower the risk of contracting a tick-borne illness such as Lyme disease, especially in areas known to have a high prevalence of cases.
In the U.S., the most reported cases of Lyme occurred in the Mid-Atlantic states, comprising nearly a quarter of cases during the period 2016-2019.
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Pennsylvania topped the list of states with nearly 33,000 cases during that time span, followed by New Jersey with just under 12,000 and New York with over 11,000 cases during that time period.
That’s according to a special reports team at veterinarians.org, which looked at data collected from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2016 to 2019. Wisconsin ranked fourth with over 5,600 cases, while Virginia came in 10th, with just over 3,500 cases.
The Mid-Atlantic states saw a high number of cases due to their abundant wooded and grassy areas, mild winters and warm summers that provide optimal conditions for ticks to live and breed.
A high prevalence of white-tailed deer also plays a role in this statistic, the report said. The deer are hosts for the black-legged tick that typically can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
An infected tick can transmit the bacteria to a human or pet with just one bite if the tick feeds for at least 24 hours on its host.
The black-legged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick, is small and brownish-red in color — and is the size of a sesame seed, making it difficult to notice on your body or your pet’s body, experts said.
Ticks can attach to humans during outdoor activities. They can also attach to dogs, making it easy for the ticks to enter the home and pose a risk to other pets and pet owners, experts said.
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An infected tick can transmit the bacteria to a human or pet with just one bite if the tick feeds for at least 24 hours on its host, according to physicians and veterinarians. Prevention and early detection are critical in avoiding this disease as well as other tick related illnesses, they said.
What to do if you find a tick on your body
“The first thing to do is remove the tick, and the sooner the better,” said Andrew Handel, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease expert at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital on Long Island, New York.
He added, “You should use tweezers to firmly pull the tick upward from the base of its head, right where it meets the skin. Do not attempt to burn the tick off. Place the tick in a sealed storage bag and bring it to your health care provider for next steps.”
Some 60% to 80% of people with Lyme disease notice a “target” or “bullseye” rash within a few weeks of the tick bite, said Handel.
For those who don’t, other typical symptoms of the disease include new, severe headaches; a facial droop or a swollen joint; fever; muscle aches; and fatigue.
If you’re bitten by a tick and live in an area where Lyme disease is highly prevalent, a single prophylactic dose of doxycycline may be used to reduce the risk of developing Lyme disease, said the CDC.
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Your physician will determine if a full course of treatment is necessary based on your individual case.
“As with many infections, Lyme disease is diagnosed by measuring antibodies produced in response to the infection.”
There are blood tests available to detect if you have Lyme disease. Yet Dr. Handel said that the timing of the test could make a difference when it comes to accuracy.
“As with many infections, Lyme disease is diagnosed by measuring antibodies produced in response to the infection,” he said. “This immune response takes time to develop, so results are often negative in the first month after the tick bite. After that time, the test becomes very reliable.”
In cases where there is an unclear diagnosis of Lyme disease, the doctor will sometimes repeat the antibody titer test a few weeks after the first test was performed, said Handel.
“An increase in antibody level is consistent with a new Lyme disease infection,” he explained.
Research is currently underway to develop a Lyme disease vaccine, he told Fox News Digital.
“A Lyme disease vaccine is very far along in development, with patients currently enrolling in a phase three trial including both children and adults,” said Handel.
He added, “Stony Brook Children’s Hospital is serving as a study site for the pediatric study. We are hopeful that the vaccine will prove effective and safe and will be available for routine use in the near future.”
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Also, “when going on hikes, make sure to wear pants tucked into your socks, apply insect repellant, and perform a thorough tick check soon after your adventure,” Handel suggested.
After coming in from the outdoors, check your clothing for ticks and tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on clothing, the CDC advised.
Taking a shower within two hours of being outdoors may reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses and help wash off unattached ticks, the CDC also said.
It is a good time to do an overall body tick check including behind the ears, under the arms, in and around the belly button and in the hair. Use a hand mirror or full-length mirror to view hard-to-see areas of the body when screening for ticks.
It’s also important to check jacket, backpacks and pets for ticks after being outdoors to avoid ticks attaching later to a person, the CDC said.
If you find a tick on your pet, veterinarians advised grabbing tweezers — just as you would with humans — and removing the tick immediately.
Pets with Lyme may show a number of different clinical signs.
“This is easiest to do using fine-point tweezers or a tick removal hook, grabbing the tick as close to the pet’s body as possible and pulling straight up with a slow, steady motion in order to prevent leaving any of the tick’s mouth parts behind,” Dr. Jamie Freyer, DVM, a veterinarian with Veterinarians.org, told Fox News Digital.
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“It is possible for ticks to leave their animal hosts and attach to humans as well. Using a fine-tooth flea comb to go over your pet before it comes indoors can help to prevent unwanted parasites from coming inside the house,” Freyer added.
Pets can also succumb to symptoms of Lyme disease, the veterinarian said.
“Pets with Lyme may show a number of different clinical signs, ranging from being completely asymptomatic to having swollen joints, lameness, lethargy and loss of appetite,” she said.
“Lyme disease has also been associated with kidney problems,” she added.
It’s vital to keep your pet protected from ticks.
If your dog has been bitten by a tick, Freyer said to talk with your veterinarian, who may provide medication and do a quick point-of-care test that can detect antibodies as early as three to five weeks after a tick bite — even before symptoms are often noticed.
It’s vital to keep your pet protected from ticks, she said.
“Pets in areas where ticks are present should be on a regular flea and tick preventive. There are a number of options for tick prevention, including both oral and topical medications,” she said.
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“Ticks are most common in wooded areas with long grass, so if your pets play in your yard, it is best to keep the grass short and shrubs trimmed back. If you have a heavy tick infestation, check out the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Green Paws product guide.”
When it comes to discouraging ticks from migrating to your yard, the CDC recommended clearing tall grasses and brush around lawns and homes.
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Creating a three-foot wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around play equipment and patios to keep ticks away from these areas is also advised.
Frequent lawn mowing is recommended as well.