Jenna Ladd | April 27, 2018
Incidents of lyme disease are on the rise thanks to climate change and land use change.
There are about 30,000 cases of lyme disease reported to the Center for Disease Control every year in the U.S., which is up from approximately 10,000 annual reports in the 1990s.
Deer ticks or black-legged ticks that carry lyme disease require a certain number of frost-free days to complete their life cycle. As the climate warms, these ticks are plaguing parts of North America that have not previously been home to them. In recent years, deer ticks have been found as far north as Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba, Canada. Cases of lyme disease in Canada rose from 144 cases annually in 2009 to 917 cases annually in 2015.
Land use change is also increasing the prevalence of lyme disease. As urban developments sprawl out into previously forested land, humans live in closer quarters with the lyme disease vectors.
Early symptoms of lyme disease include fever, chills, and a “bulls eye” rash around the tick bite. If the disease is caught early enough, it can be treated with antibiotics. However, as many as 30 percent of people do not develop the bulls eye rash and often mistake the other symptoms for another illness. If left untreated, lyme disease can cause heart palpitations, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord and facial palsy, among other symptoms.
The Center for Disease Control is working to educate health care professionals about how to recognize lyme disease in patients and the most effective treatments for it. Scientists from Bard College and Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies have also enrolled 1,000 households in Duchess County, New York in a study testing some new deer tick control methods. The five year study is using bait boxes that apply a small amount of fipronil (found in products like Frontline) to tick-carrying mammals like squirrels and chipmunks and a fungal spray that kills ticks to determine whether the methods are effective in keeping tick populations down.
Tick-borne illnesses are the most likely harmful human health effect for Iowans as a result of climate change according to the Medical Society Consortium.