Lyme disease poses a threat to millions of people across the globe. The misconception that Lyme disease is exclusive to the United States, and the northeastern portion of the country in particular, is understandable. Hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, but the 2017 U.S. Geological Survey found that 95 percent of those cases are in the northeast, mid-Atlantic or northern midwest regions. In spite of that, no one is immune to Lyme disease, regardless of where they live.
The World Health Organization notes that, in addition to the United States, there are foci of Lyme borreliosis in forested areas of Asian and in northwestern, central and eastern Europe, proving that Lyme disease is a global issue. With that in mind, it behooves everyone to take steps to understand Lyme disease and how to reduce their risk of getting it.
What is Lyme disease?
According to Lymedisease.org, an online resource that supports science-based advocacy, Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium known as Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease can affect any organ of the body, and it is often misdiagnosed because it tends to mimic symptoms of other diseases. Lyme disease may be misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and even psychiatric illnesses like depression. Such misdiagnoses can delay treatment of the underlying infection.
How do I get Lyme disease?
The majority of Lyme disease patients get the disease from the bite of a nymphal tick. Nymphs are immature forms of ticks that are very small, typically the size of a poppy seed, according to Lymedisease.org. The bites are painless and, when coupled with the size of nymphal ticks, that increases the likelihood that people will not even realize they’ve been bitten. Ticks can stay attached to the body for several days, feeding all the while. Lymedisease.org notes that the longer the tick stays attached, the more likely it will transmit the Lyme and other pathogens into the bloodstream of the person it’s attached to.
How can I safeguard myself against Lyme disease?
The Global Lyme Alliance, which funds research aimed at preventing, diagnosing and treating tick-borne illnesses, notes that practicing tick bite prevention habits is the best way to prevent Lyme disease. Through its “Be Tick AWARE” campaign, the GLA urges people to follow these simple steps to reduce their risk for Lyme disease:
- Avoid high tick traffic areas, like tall grass and leaf piles.
- Wear proper clothing, including long pants, sleeves and socks. Avoid walking in grass barefoot or in open sandals, even when grass has been cut short.
- Apply tick repellant approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Remove clothing upon entering your home, tossing clothing into the dryer at high temperatures for 10 to 15 minutes to kill live ticks. Note that the GLA says putting clothes into the washer will not kill live ticks.
- Examine yourself for ticks every day.
No one is immune to Lyme disease, regardless of where they live. Recognizing that and take protective measures can help people lower their risk for Lyme disease.