Scientists warn that 2017 could see a spike in the number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease.
The cause? A surge in the mouse population last summer, particularly in the Northeastern U.S.
Scientists Rick Ostfeld and his wife Felicia Keesing have studied Lyme disease for nearly two decades. From this experience, they developed an early warning system, according to National Public Radio. The system ties the number of mice found the previous summer to potential new Lyme disease cases.
“An individual mouse might have 50, 60, even 100 ticks covering its ears and face,” Outfield told NPR.
With up to 95 percent of these ticks getting infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme, it means potentially bad news for us this summer.
Even though the mouse population was highest in the Northeast, that doesn’t mean the rest of the U.S. is protected.
“What’s important for people to know is that the ticks are spreading to new areas—and tick-borne diseases are coming with them,” Kiersten Kugeler of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told NPR.
The Spread of Lyme Disease
A 2015 CDC report noted that Lyme disease had spread to 260 counties on the U.S. East Coast and has started to move into the Midwest, as well.
These two CDC graphs show the quick spread of the disease over a five-year period, from 201o to 2015.
Another useful tool for evaluating your risk based on where you live is this interactive map showing the occurrence of dog diseases in your area. LymeDisease.org recommends using canine-related data, since dogs tend to be routinely screened for Lyme disease and humans are not.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria that the ticks commonly known as black-legged or deer ticks carry. These ticks get the bacteria from the blood of mice they feed upon.
Most often, people get Lyme disease by walking in woodsy or grassy areas without proper skin protection. This can be anything from keeping arms and legs covered with clothing to using insect repellent.
Also, it’s important to check your body for possible ticks after walking in a high-risk area. Quick removal of ticks can help prevent Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash, according to the CDC. If left untreated, the infection could spread to the heart, joints and nervous system.
Doctors can treat Lyme disease with antibiotics, which usually take a few weeks to effectively cure the illness. Catching the disease soon after transmission generally leads to a faster recovery time. In rare cases, people may suffer from “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome,” where symptoms persist despite antibiotic treatment. Researchers have yet to pinpoint why this occurs in some cases, but according to the Mayo Clinic, some experts believe its tied to an autoimmune response to the disease.