More Ticks Expected From Mild Winter

Experts expect an explosion of ticks thanks to mild winter.

April 11, 2012, 11:11 AM

April 11, 2012— -- This year's unusually mild winter and the early onset of warm temperatures comes with a nasty downside -- an explosion of ticks just waiting for a fresh, warm-blood meal.

"It's going to be a really bad season, and it's been almost the perfect storm," said David Roth, co-chairman of the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance, a newly formed group of organizations that promote advocacy and awareness of Lyme disease and other conditions caused by ticks. "Part of it is the warmth and the fact that normally, they're just coming out at this time of year, but they've been out now for a while, and so have people."

There are a number of species of ticks, but perhaps the most well known is the deer tick, which carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Roth, now 45, became intimately acquainted with Lyme disease in 2010, when he started to experience a variety of what he called "mysterious" symptoms.

For months, doctors couldn't diagnose him, since Lyme disease can affect multiple body systems, and symptoms often mimic those of other diseases. He didn't develop the telltale round, red rash that most people recognize as a hallmark of the disease. Many people don't get that rash.

"Different people can be impacted differently," Roth said. "My symptoms were more neurological." He had difficulty sleeping and breathing, and experienced night sweats, tremors and more. Those symptoms, he said, still affect him two years later.

According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, the signs of Lyme disease can vary but often include the red rash that may appear about one or two weeks after a tick bite around the site of the bite, fever, joint pain, fatigue and chills. As the bacteria continue to invade the body, people may experience a stiff neck, tingling and severe headaches.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2010, about 22,000 cases of Lyme disease and 8,000 more probable cases were reported nationwide.

While Lyme disease is the most common tickborne disease, ticks can also transmit diseases such as babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

There has been a lot of debate over certain aspects of Lyme disease, including diagnosis and treatment. Another controversial point has been whether chronic Lyme disease exists. Despite the debate, there is agreement over the need to prevent tickborne diseases. Ticks often carry more than one disease, so people may end up getting co-infections from a single bite.

"We anticipate that this is going to be a very buggy summer, and infectious disease doctors are prepared to see an increase in people with tick-related illnesses," said Dr. William Schaffner, director of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

No matter what species of tick is involved, preventive measures will be the same.

"Use tick repellent containing Deet, and use it regularly -- that includes mowing lawns or working around the house, not just going on a hike in the woods," Schaffner said.

People should also check each other and themselves after being outside. They should carefully inspect the back, hair, groin and other areas.

"If you can remove a tick promptly, it reduces the risk of infection," he said. "It takes a while for a tick to feed and regurgiate the disease-causing organism into the body."

When removing ticks from themselves or pets, people should grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull back without jerking.

Also, Schaffner said people should see a health care provider if they have been out in wooded areas and are experiencing an illness characterized by fever, and be sure to let the provider know they were outdoors, since ticks could bite and fall off without a person ever knowing.

Roth knows from experience how debilitating Lyme disease can be, and emphasized that prevention -- and early diagnosis -- were critical.

"People don't get diagnosed until it's too late," he said.

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