While there are still many things we don’t know about Lyme disease, we are pretty confident on the method of transmission. The bacteria that causes the disease, borrelia burgdorferi, is spread through tick bites. Although there has been some evidence of Lyme being transmitted from mother to baby in the womb, and possibly through the blood transfusion mechanic, the predominant way that Lyme infects humans is through direct physical contact with ticks. Lyme is a particularly debilitating disease, especially in its chronic form, so learning how to best avoid contracting it in the first place is one of the best forms of education. People who might have a higher risk of contracting Lyme disease should be aware of what to look out for, and how to avoid putting themselves in danger.
Lyme is traditionally considered to be a northeastern disease, prevalent in states like Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. While it’s true that there are higher instances of Lyme disease around these key areas, it’s important to keep in mind that Lyme has been found in every single state in mainland America. Due to global warming, ticks are living longer and are migrating further than they previously did. This means that statistically, everyone in the country is at risk of being exposed to Lyme disease, although geographically, your risk is higher if you live in the northeast. The disease was discovered there in 1975, and the tick population continues to increase year after year. On the other hand, these northeastern states are usually well educated on the dangers of Lyme disease, especially when compared to other areas of the country, but it pays to remain vigilant at all times.
Other people at higher risk of Lyme disease are those who spend a lot of time outdoors. If you’re an active person who likes going for long hikes or rambles in rural areas, then your chance of exposure is quite high. Ticks populate woodland and grassy regions, which can be some of the most rewarding places to hike through. Unfortunately, if you leave your legs and arms bare as you walk through these areas, you leave yourself even more open to tick bites. Ticks can easily grasp onto exposed areas of skin, and don’t need much time to establish purchase on their new host. Contrary to some popular opinion, they cannot jump; instead, they search for hosts using a specific method called ‘questing’. This involves ticks positioning themselves on the very edge of a piece of greenery or bark, with their front legs outstretched. As soon as something passes by them, they are able to hook on with ease.
Ticks will not bite at the site where they attach themselves; they will purposefully seek out the most confined parts of the body, where they are less able to be detected. As well as wearing protective clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible, make sure to check your whole body for tick bites when you come in from extended periods in the rural outdoors. People whose job requires them to stay outdoors all the time should be extra vigilant about ticks and tick bites. Common vocations that might fit this bill include tree surgeons or famers, but there are plenty of other jobs that require workers to put in at least some time outside. It only requires one tick bite to contract Lyme disease, and a tick can attach itself within seconds. Always remember to cover up if you’re heading into any woody or grassy area, especially in late spring and summer.
Another exposure risk is animals. If you keep a cat that ventures outside for long periods of time, or a dog that you walk through rural areas, be mindful that they might pick up ticks, which can spread to humans. You don’t need to bathe your pet every time they come indoors, but the risk is something to remember and be cautious of. Additionally, agricultural vets might be exposed to ticks during the course of their work, along with a host of other diseases. Although Lyme disease might be low down on their list, it’s important to remember that it can be an extremely debilitating condition, setting the patient up for a lifetime of grueling symptoms if not tackled properly in the early stages.
Once infected, immunocompromised people can have a really tough time with Lyme disease. The chronic complications of the disorder are likely to be significant if the immune system is misfiring, leading to all sorts of debilitating symptoms that can potentially last decades. It is crucial to tackle Lyme disease in its acute stages in order to avoid the chronic forms. Anyone with a weak immune system should know the danger signs, and be extra vigilant if they’ve potentially been exposed to any ticks or tick-infested areas.
The more people know about Lyme disease, the easier it is to avoid, treat, and eradicate. With instances of disease on the rise every year, education is more crucial than ever.