Tick-borne disease cases are on the rise, here’s how to prevent them

Posted at 12:05 PM, Jun 05, 2020

Warmer weather means tick season across the U.S., and a number of tick-borne disease cases has increased over the past few years.

“Lyme disease is gonna be the most common disease we see,” said Nicole Chinnici, laboratory director of the Dr. Jane Huffman Wildlife Genetics Institute.

Chinnici is part of the Pennsylvania Tick Research Lab.

“Tick season generally starts in the spring. It’s as we're coming out of winter and getting into the warmer months,” explained Dr. Mark Montano, the medical director of CareNow Urgent Cares in Colorado.

The CDC said disease cases from mosquito, tick, and flea bites more than tripled from 2004 to 2016 in the U.S.. They predict the number of infections in any given season is complicated, but to put it in perspective, the number of tick-borne disease cases increased from 48,610 reported cases in 2016 to 59,349 reported cases in 2017.

“There’s a lot of factors in it,” Chinnici said.

She said reasons could include how mild the winter was, how long the warmer months are, and even animal hunting and population control. Another factor is how much time people spend outside.

“People are free right now. They're working from home, so they are spending more time outdoors, so that's putting them at a greater risk just because of everything else going on with COVID-19,” Chinnici said.

The tick research lab is one of only a few in the U.S.

“We receive ticks from people, physicians, and then we test them in the lab using molecular techniques, and then we report the results back to the customer within 72 hours,” she explained.

All you have to do is send it in. For Pennsylvania residents, it’s free. For cases in other parts of the U.S., there is a fee that comes with the lab test.

“We’re providing the individual that was exposed to the tick bite with early detection of whether or not they've been exposed to a tick-borne disease,” Chinnici said.

A quick look at their website , and you can see that of the ticks they’ve tested over time, about a third were infected with a disease. The most common being Lyme disease.

“Lyme disease is really carried by the blacklegged tick,” Dr. Montano said.

Lyme disease can cause body aches and rashes. In more serious cases, irregular heartbeat and brain inflammation.

“That tick could stay on you for several days. Seven to ten days as it feeds on you for that time,” he explained.

Dr. Montano said they like to attach behind the knees, groin, and belly button. But there are ways to prevent attachment and infection.

“Watch where you're walking,” Dr. Montano said. “When you're done with your hike or your trip, you really want to make sure you do a body check.”

“Some of the ways you might prevent the ticks from attaching in the first place are to use some of these over-the-counter medications or insect repellents,” he continued.

“Dressing with lighter color clothing so you can see the ticks crawling on you and to be aware of ticks especially this time of year and through the fall,” Chinnici said.

If you do find a tick on your body, Chinnici said you want to remove it right away.

“The faster you are able to remove the tick, the less likelihood of a disease transmitting to you, so you want to use fine point tweezers and pull the tick up and out,” she said.

As the lab receives more ticks, Chinnici said they are able to collect data that can be used to help monitor hot zones or other common trends.

“it gives us information of where our tick populations are located, distribution of those ticks, and what diseases they are carrying,” she said.