Tick-borne illnesses are on the increase in the United States and disease cases have doubled between 2004 and 2016, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Further, the report found that disease cases from infected mosquitoes, ticks and fleas have tripled in 13 years and since 2004, nine vector-borne diseases were discovered or introduced for the first time from the United States and its territories.
According to the CDC report, 48,000 tick-borne diseases were reported in 2016 and Lyme disease accounted for 82 percent of all tick-borne diseases between 2004 and 2016. In 2004, 22,000 tick-borne diseases were reported. In its report, the CDC said the nation needs to be better prepared to face this public health threat.
“Zika, West Nile, Lyme, and chikungunya—a growing list of diseases caused by the bite of an infected mosquito, tick, or flea—have confronted the U.S. in recent years, making a lot of people sick. And we don’t know what will threaten Americans next,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a news release. “Our Nation’s first lines of defense are state and local health departments and vector control organizations, and we must continue to enhance our investment in their ability to fight against these diseases.”
In Minnesota, between 2004 and 2016, there were 26,886 tick-borne disease cases, according to CDC data. Minnesota was in the top 20 percent of states for tick-borne diseases and had the second highest number of disease cases.
Tick-borne diseases occur throughout the country but predominate in the eastern parts of the country and along the Pacific Coast.
The CDC identified four other tick-borne diseases; spotted fever rickettsioses, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis/ehrlichiosis, that have all seen a rise in the 13 year period.
According to the CDC, ticks are particularly hard to control. The New York Times reported that ticks need deer or rodents as their main blood hosts and their populations have increased while predators like foxes have disappeared. The CDC notes that tick-borne pathogens rarely cause sudden epidemics because human are typically incidental hosts that do not transmit further. In comparison, mosquito-borne illnesses are transmitted directly between humans by the mosquitoes.
The CDC says their data underestimates disease occurrence and its estimated that Lyme Disease affects 300,000 Americans every year. Many cases result in minimal symptoms.
The lead author of the CDC study, Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, told the Times that warmer weather is an important cause in the surge but he didn’t directly link the increase to climate change. Petersen also said a lack of vaccines and jet travel were factors in the surge.
The CDC says the burden falls on local health agencies to survey and control ticks and nearly all vector control operations are locally funded and operated. With ticks being difficult to control, the CDC says people must take extra steps to protect themselves.
Here are some steps you can take to prevent yourself from being bitten by a tick (via the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene)
- Stay on cleared paths and hiking trails when walking in heavily wooded areas.
- Wear light-colored, Permethrin-treated clothing to allow you to better see ticks that crawl on your clothing. Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up the inside of your pant legs.
- Apply repellents containing DEET to prevent ticks from attaching.
- Check for ticks on your body and clothing after returning from wooded, brushy, or tall, grassy areas and remove any ticks you find on you, your child or your pet.
- Keep in mind that young ticks are very small (about the size of a poppy seed), so seek help to inspect not easily reachable areas. Be sure to look carefully in areas of the body where hair is present, since it may make it difficult to see the ticks. Adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed.
- Shower after being in an area with ticks, and promptly put clothes in a dryer on high heat to kill ticks.
- Speak to your vet about tick prevention products for your pet dogs and cats.
- Remove leaf litter and debris to reduce the likelihood of ticks around the home.
- If you get a rash or a fever, let the doctor know if you may have been exposed to ticks, even if you don’t remember having a tick bite.
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