Lyme disease has become a severe problem in the United States because of the rampant tick population. The bacterial infection infects half a million people each year in the country. With that many people contracting Lyme disease, it’s hard to feel safe while out in wooded areas where the ticks are the most likely to be.
That being said, ticks are not prevalent in every state. Some areas in the US carry a much higher risk than others when coming into contact with infected ticks and contracting the difficult-to-treat Lyme disease infection. But what states are the worst for Lyme disease, and what can you do if you live in these areas?
What States Are Vulnerable For Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the country. More and more people each year are getting diagnosed with the bacterial infection. That is especially true in states more vulnerable to larger infected tick populations.
While more than half the country is home to these ticks, certain areas have seen an uptick in Lyme disease cases. That is likely because of the climate and environmental factors that come into play regarding a tick’s life cycle and where they best survive.
Ticks can thrive in conditions above 4 degrees Celsius. Typically, every state in the country can hover at that temperature at any point in the year. However, there is more to it than temperature. Ticks need high humidity levels since they cannot drink water. They rely on humid conditions for their bodies to stay effectively hydrated – a humidity of 85% or higher is ideal. If the humidity dips below 80%, the tick’s life will be cut short due to dehydration.
Ticks also need many hosts to feed off of to stay alive. While there is wildlife across the country, some states provide the best possible hosts for them to latch on to. Low-lying vegetation is also an essential aspect of survival for ticks because it allows for a shield from the sun and shelter. Hosts such as deer, mice and sheep also frequent these areas, making it much easier for a tick to survive.
The states that are most vulnerable to ticks are those that meet the above criteria. Northeastern states such as New Jersey and New York make for prime conditions.
What Seasons Are The Worst For Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease tends to spike in the warmer months. From late March to late October can be prime time for ticks because the weather tends to be more humid and warmer, and most hosts are out and about in the vegetative areas. The time between these months is typically called tick season since that is when most ticks are feeding.
Depending on the weather and recent changes caused by climate change, tick season can last longer if the cold of winter is warded off for longer or ends sooner than expected.
What State Has The Highest Incidence Of Lyme Disease?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state with the most Lyme disease cases in 2019 was Pennsylvania, with 6,763 confirmed cases. Another 2,235 probable cases were added to the data as well. The incidence rate per 100,000 people in the state was roughly 52.8. The states that followed Pennsylvania with the highest Lyme disease rates were New York with 2,847, New Jersey with 2,400 and Maine with 1,629.
While these four states had the most cases in the country, there are high incidence rates in 10 others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Lyme Disease Maps. Most of the states with the highest Lyme disease rates fell into the Northeast Region, with 12 states.
The other 2 with the highest incidence rates, Wisconsin and Minnesota, belong to the upper Midwest region of the country. The Northeast and upper Midwest areas have a climate that gives ticks enough humidity, hosts and vegetation to thrive.
What Are The 16 Worst States For Lyme Disease In The United States?
While the following 16 states account for those with the highest incidence rates in the country, the number of confirmed and probable cases varies significantly by state. The highest is in Pennsylvania, while the lowest belongs to Massachusetts.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
How Can I Protect Myself If I Live In These States?
Living in a tick-filled state doesn’t mean you have to avoid the outdoors like the plague. It simply means that, when enjoying the great outdoors, you must be more thoughtful about how you do it and ensure you’re aware of the Lyme disease risk.
Ticks latch onto bare skin and continue to feed for as long as possible. To avoid this when hiking or spending time outside, wearing loose-fitting and light-colored clothing can help you protect yourself from getting bit.
You can also use bug spray that contains DEET which may help ward off ticks and make you less attractive as a host. Following an outdoor excursion, you will also want to thoroughly check yourself, your family and any pets you have for ticks. It typically takes a tick 24 to 48 hours to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. That means that the faster you detect and remove the tick, the better your chances of avoiding the infection.
To remove the tick, you can use tweezers and gently squeeze the tick. Once you have a good grip, you will slowly and gently pull the tick out, being careful to ensure the entire tick stays intact while you take it out. Once removed, put the tick in a bag and have it sent for testing. That will help you identify whether or not the tick that bit you has the infection, and also allow officials to track diseased ticks in the area.
Lyme disease is challenging to cope with, so it’s best to protect yourself before contracting it.
Featured image by Erik Karits on Unsplash