Record numbers of Americans are being affected by Lyme disease; and, thanks to climate change, that number could increase dramatically as warmer temperatures allow ticks, the carriers of Lyme, to live longer.

Immature deer ticks, or nymphs, now exist throughout large areas of North American forests, although this wasn’t always the case. During early summer, the blood-thirsty insects roam about, looking for victims to feed on.

You might have noticed that temperatures dip later in the fall than they used to, and that it’s often too warm for snow in the winter. It’s not your imagination; summer really does last longer, and the winters really are warmer. A lot of people are happy about that, but so are the ticks.

While you’re rejoicing over being able to wear shorts and tank tops in December, ticks carrying viruses, bacteria, and parasites that cause Lyme disease, deer tick encephalitis, and babesiosis are looking at your bare ankles like they’re a buffet.

Read: Scientists Discovered a New Bacteria that Causes Lyme Disease – Borrelia Mayonii

All that warmth allows nymphs to mature faster, and full-grown ticks to live longer.

Lyme disease first appeared in North America in 1976 in Lyme, Connecticut. Forty years ago, deer ticks were only found in an area encircling Long Island Sound, plus a small area in Wisconsin. They’ve been extending their reach across the country ever since and have doubled their reach in the past 20 years. Deer ticks are now established in 45% of U.S. counties.

Adult-Symptoms
Source: Long Island Lyme Disease

The spread of Lyme disease has closely followed the spread of forest nymphs. It is now the most common disease spread by a vector – a tick, mosquito, or other insect – in the U.S.

Lyme disease has spread in close correlation with the spread of the forest nymphs. It is now the most common disease spread by a vector – a tick, mosquito, or other insect – in the U.S.

According to the CDC, over 30,000 cases of the disease are reported each year; but it also estimates that 10 times as many Americans develop Lyme disease. [1]

Lyme disease mimics more than 350 other diseases, so it is often misdiagnosed and mistreated. Some people struggle with their symptoms – unexplained swelling, achiness, heart palpitations, flu-like symptoms, and other problems – for months, even years, if their doctor fails to offer a blood test to detect Lyme.

The changing climate is providing ticks with perfect breeding grounds, but there’s another aspect to the rapid spread of ticks and tick-borne illnesses: naiveté.

People tend to believe they are immune to the dangers of tick bites because they’ve taken such dramatic steps to rid their lives of bugs. [2]

Katharine Walter, a graduate student in the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases at Yale University, said:

“The barriers we have created – the heated, cooled, and (somewhat) bug-free spaces we inhabit – give us an artificial sense of immunity to the disturbances shaking our fragile ecosystem.”

She went on to say:

“The consequences of climate change will be felt most profoundly by people living in or near areas where diseases carried by mosquitoes and other vectors are already common and where poverty makes it difficult to stamp out these diseases.” [1]

The 12 Worst States for Lyme Disease [3]

  • 1. Maryland
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 16.0 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 957 (9th highest)
  • 2. Minnesota
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 16.4 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 896 (10th highest)
  • 3. Wisconsin
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 17.2 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 991 (7th highest)
  • 4. New Jersey
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 29.0 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 2,589 (4th highest)
  • 5. Delaware
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 36.4 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 341 (14th highest)
  • 6. New Hampshire
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 46.9 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 622 (11th highest)
  • 7. Connecticut
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 47.8 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 1,719 (5th highest)
  • 8. Pennsylvania
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 50.6 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 6,470 (the highest)
  • 9. Rhode Island
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 54.0 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 570 (12th highest)
  • 10. Massachusetts
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 54.1 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 3,646 (2nd highest)
  • 11. Vermont
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 70.5 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 442 (13th highest)
  • 12. Maine
    Incidence of Lyme disease: 87.9 per 100,000 residents
    Confirmed cases: 1,169 (6th highest) [3]

Sources:

[1] STAT

[2] Inquisitr

[3] 24/7 Wall St.

Long Island Lyme Disease


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.