From May through July, people will get more tick bites and tickborne diseases than any other time of the year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But where does Lyme Disease start? How does it spread? Should you cancel all of your outdoor plans?
Experts say it all starts with a small tick, no bigger than the tip of a pencil. Actually, an even smaller bacteria within the tick sets off the chain of events.
“The disease is actually caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi,” explained Dr. Mohammed Ali, an infectious disease specialist with Meritus Health.
This microscopic bacteria carried by tiny deer ticks can wreak havoc in a body.
“[The tick] releases the bacteria under your skin…and from there, the bacteria can disseminate or spread into your blood,” Dr. Ali said. “And from the blood, it essentially attacks your blood or your nerves.”
Dr. Ali said the disease is not contagious.
“It’s caused by a deer tick, and humans act as a dead end host for the disease,” he explained. “So once I get Lyme Disease, I cannot give it to anyone else.”
Ticks become more active in the spring and summer months in the northeastern United States, and a recent report released by the CDC shows that illnesses spread by ticks have nearly tripled from 2014 to 2016.
“Global warming, in general, is leading to more warm days than cold days, and we’re seeing more ticks, and people are [spending more time] outside,” Dr. Ali said.
Experts say the best way to avoid tick bites is by using bug spray – something you can find at any local hunting shop.
“As far as I know, DEET is the chemical that helps deter the tick,” said Tim Hafer, president of Hafer’s Gunsmithing in Hagerstown.
While it’s a disease often associated with hunters and outdoorsmen, experts say ticks don’t discriminate.
“Technically, it doesn’t always have to be hunters, just roaming through the grass or going into the outdoors,” Hafer said.
“All age groups are susceptible to Lyme Disease. The risk factor is being outdoors,” Dr. Ali confirmed.
While being aware is helpful, tracking down Lyme Disease-spreading ticks can be tricky.
“A person who gets Lyme Disease may not even remember getting a tick bite, because the tick is so small,” Dr. Ali said. “It’s very easy to not see a tick biting you, and you can still get Lyme Disease.”
So keep an eye out for the telltale bullseye rash, or flu-like symptoms.
“Patients who actually get Lyme Disease, they are quite ill,” Dr. Ali explained. “They get really bad headaches and muscle pains, and joint pains. Usually, they become functionless.”
You should also check yourself whenever you return from an outdoor activity.
“Ticks, from my understanding, go to the warm extremities of the body – the armpits, the creases,” Hafer said. “If you have long hair, try to run your hands through your hair – have somebody look at your head.”
You can also submit any ticks that you find for closer inspection.
“You can submit the tick to the Department of Health for a Lyme Disease checkup,” Dr. Ali added.
But he reassures outdoor enthusiasts that there’s not anything to be afraid of.
“You don’t have to panic,” Dr. Ali said. “Not all ticks have Lyme Disease. So if you watch for those symptoms for two to three weeks, and you don’t see anything, then you don’t have it.”
CDC officials said 95 percent of Lyme Disease cases occur in just 14 states. Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania are included in that list.