Does it seem like you’re hearing about Lyme disease and other tick-related diseases more in the past few years? Today, almost everyone knows someone who has battled or is battling Lyme disease. In honor of Lyme disease Awareness Month, Hulett Environmental Services takes an in-depth look at this elusive, debilitating illness and offers ways to prevent contracting Lyme and other vector-borne illnesses.
South Florida enjoys summer-like temperatures all year which means dealing with tick and flea issues year-round. That said, originally between 2002 and 2011, only 673 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Florida. Only 23% of the cases were acquired in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Health and 77% were contracted when Florida residents traveled to other states and countries. Because of the low occurrence of Lyme disease cases originating in Florida, Lyme disease was not considered a big issue here, but it is on the rise, or at least our ability to make an accurate diagnosis is on the rise. Florida ticks feed on the wealth of native reptile species that aren’t vectors for Lyme disease, this had factored into the lower number of Lyme disease cases in Florida.
Lyme disease cases and awareness of Lyme disease on the rise in Florida
Unfortunately, that changed in 2012 with the CDC adjusting their reporting to 12,730 new cases of Lyme disease in Florida between 1990 and 2012 making Florida one of the CDC’s top 20 list of states with the most cases of Lyme disease in the US. Over the past decade, an increase in reported tick-borne illnesses has resulted in more in-depth research and public awareness campaigns. Due, in part to these factors, healthcare professionals and researchers have determined that many cases of Lyme disease were not reported or misdiagnosed in previous years.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks
Transmitted primarily by deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks, Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. First identified on the Connecticut River in 1975, Lyme disease ranks the highest in reported vector-borne diseases in the US. While Florida’s Lyme disease cases seem to be on the rise, most reported cases occur in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and the Northern Midwestern states during the summer months.
Much confusion and misdiagnoses caused by complex bacteria
Known as “the new great imitator,” Lyme disease is capable of producing symptoms that mimic head colds, arthritis, Epstein Barr, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Parkinson’s Disease, Lupus, Autism, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and even Alzheimer’s. Unreliable diagnostic testing often turns up false negative results.
As it turns out, the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi happens to be the most complex bacteria known to science, according to The Lyme Action Network’s website. Shaped like a corkscrew, Borreliae spirochete drill into tissues. This skill allows Borreliae to infect any area of the body. Adept at shape-shifting, Borreliae can change from a spirochete into a cyst-form by coating themselves with a protein, thus avoiding antibiotics. Borreliae can even alter their cell walls or hide in a biofilm to trick antibiotics. Researchers recently discovered that Borreliae demonstrate the ability to produce “persister” cells that thrive beyond antibiotic treatment. It’s no wonder that Lyme disease can be challenging to diagnose.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Lyme disease poses many obstacles to direct diagnosis and treatment, from many victims not realizing they’d been bitten by a tick, to symptoms not showing up until some years later. If you find a tick biting you and remove it, chances are you can nip Lyme disease in the bud with a 28-day round of antibiotics.
Some of the classic symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Bull’s eye rash – 60-80% of people will develop a circular red rash, that may or may not occur at the bite site
- Chronic fatigue
- Low-grade fever with chills
- Stiff muscles and joints
Early detection and thorough treatment are key to total recovery
Left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to neurologic, cardiac, arthritic and/or psychiatric complications in humans that can cause systemic problems and organ failure that can lead to death. Chronic Lyme disease has been estimated in 20-30% of those infected with the virus and can cause immune system breakdowns that lead to severe difficulty in curing illnesses.
Some people infected with Lyme disease don’t show symptoms until years after they were infected by a tick. Muscle and joint problems, in addition to cognitive issues, can occur as a result of non-treatment or misdiagnosis. Sometimes, one round of antibiotics isn’t enough to eliminate the virus. It’s not uncommon for infected people to require a second round of antibiotics. Early detection, diagnosis, and thorough treatment seem to be the trifecta for complete recovery from Lyme disease.
Tick life cycles play a part in infecting humans and animals
In the spring, black-legged tick or deer tick eggs hatch and become larvae long enough to feed once, molt into nymphs and go into dormancy until the next spring. The next spring, these nymphs feed again in order to molt into adults. Feeding on rodents, usually, white-footed mice, the larvae, and nymphs can contract the Lyme disease virus at this stage. In general, nymphs infect humans, as nymphs and adults feed on humans and other large animals. Reports vary but some studies indicate that a 24-hour period of attachment is needed for nymph and adult ticks to transmit Lyme disease. Prevention is actually the best way to avoid Lyme disease and the many other pest control issues that surround fleas and ticks.
Hulett advises diligence during tick season
Deer ticks live at ground level in moist areas. Ticks are hard-wired to climb blades of grass, reach out with their front legs and grab onto legs as they pass by. Once connected to a human or animal, ticks climb upward, looking for a place to hide. It’s important to protect yourself and your pets when venturing into wooded and grassy areas by:
- Applying or acquiring topical or ingestible tick and flea prevention treatments from your vet.
- Wearing insect repellant.
- Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants with the legs tucked into socks, sneakers or boots.
- Wearing light-colored clothes.
- Wearing closed-toed shoes.
- Staying on marked trails.
- Avoiding sitting on the bare ground.
- Checking yourself and your pest for ticks, each and every time you go into tick-prone
Hulett’s tick prevention tips for the home
- Keep grass trimmed short.
- Eliminate woodpiles in and around your yard.
- Wash pet beds regularly.
- Clean pet resting areas and check for ticks.
- Vacuum pet beds and carpets regularly.
This summer, Hulett wants you and yours to have fun outdoors – camping, gardening, hiking and the like. Lyme disease and other vector-borne illnesses are preventable. With a few necessary precautions for the people and pets in your life plus some thorough afterthought and inspection, we hope your summer can prove to be as pest-free as possible. For help with ticks and all other summer pests, find out how our pest-free Healthy Home solutions, can be the key to your happy, healthy summer. Just call Hulett!