As cases of tick-borne illnesses have increased in the United States, many people are wondering which U.S. states have the highest rate of Lyme disease. Because more research has been conducted on ticks and the infections they carry, Americans are becoming more aware of the risks associated with these insects. To determine the biggest tick risk states in the U.S., and for more information on Lyme disease, read on for the facts.
The History of Lyme Disease
Although ticks have been around for thousands of years, Lyme disease as a diagnosis is fairly recent. In the 1970s, some children and adults living in Lyme, Connecticut started suffering from a variety of troublesome symptoms (including skin rashes, headaches and chronic fatigue). For years the patients went undiagnosed, but several members of the town spurred further research into the symptoms. The condition was thus named Lyme after the town it seemingly originated in. In 1981, a scientist named Willy Burgdorfer discovered the connection between the deer tick and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: a bacterium called a spirochete was carried by ticks and was causing Lyme. The spirochete was named Borrelia burgdorferi.
From then on, Lyme disease (when properly diagnosed) has been treated with antibiotics. Since the 1980s, reports of Lyme disease have continued to rise dramatically. In 2012, it was included in a list of the top ten notifiable diseases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Lyme Disease Pandemic
So, can you contract Lyme disease in America today? Unfortunately, the answer is still yes. Lyme disease has been named one of the fastest-growing vector-borne infections in the U.S. The CDC currently estimates that there are over 329,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. every year. There are some studies that suggest the U.S. is seeing even more instances of Lyme disease for a number of different reasons.
First, seven new tick-borne germs that can cause illness have been identified in the U.S. over the last 20 years. New programs are also supporting research that can detect bacteria in patients with possible tick-borne diseases. Second, more patients are reporting their symptoms and are being accurately diagnosed with Lyme disease than ever before. Third, the geographic range of some ticks that spread germs is expanding. For example, the lone star tick was originally found in the south-eastern part of the U.S. and is now found in some northern and mid-western states as well. The black-legged tick population has also more than doubled in the last 20 years.
The geographic spread of ticks (and the diseases they carry) is most likely due to a variety of different factors, including changes in land use patterns (such as reforestation in the northeast U.S.) and increased suburban development. These factors mean that people are in closer contact to tick hosts (such as deer, mice and chipmunks). Climate change also means that patterns are being altered, so that vector-borne diseases can function in a variety of seasons and locations.
What are the biggest tick risk states in America?
Because of the above-mentioned factors, the number of counties in the U.S. that are high-risk has increased by 300% from 1993 to 2012. If you’re wondering “Where can you contract Lyme in the U.S.?”, the answer is: in every state except Hawaii. But there are states where you’re even more likely to be bitten by a tick. These include:
- Maine (tops the list biggest tick risk states in the U.S., with about 87.9 diagnoses of Lyme disease per 100,000 Maine residents)
- Vermont (with about 70.5 diagnoses per every 100,000 residents – most likely because residents take part in outdoor activities where ticks are present)
- Massachusetts (in the top 20% of states for the worst tick-borne disease rates)
- Rhode Island (has experienced a significant increase over the last several years, with about 54 people per 100,000 residents)
- Pennsylvania (infection rate has nearly doubled from only five years prior with 50.6 cases per 100,000 residents)
- Connecticut (where Lyme disease officially got its start – has around 47.8 cases of Lyme disease per 100,000 residents)
- New Hampshire (because of the many rural areas in the state, there’s a greater risk of being bitten by a tick)
- Delaware (with around 36.4 cases in every 100,000 residents, there has been a slight increase over the years)
- New Jersey (an increased exposure to ticks makes this state high-risk with about 29 cases per 100,000 residents)
- New York (citizens of the state – especially in upstate NY – get around 40,000 to 50,000 tick bites a year, with around 8,000 new cases of Lyme disease being diagnosed every year)
How to protect yourself from ticks
U.S. citizens might be asking, “Can you contract Lyme disease in America if you don’t live in one of these states?” The answer is yes – even if you don’t live in one of the states listed above, there’s still a chance you could be bitten by a tick carrying Lyme. In order to protect yourself, keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid tick habitats – these are environments that are woodsy or have tall grass and heavy vegetation (ticks can also pop up in wood piles, stone walls, etc.).
- Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, long trousers and closed-toe shoes, to keep your skin covered.
- Use tick repellent by applying it to your clothes or directly to your skin (with designated safe products only).
- Check your skin for ticks immediately upon coming inside after you’ve been outdoors.
What to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick
If you think you might have been bitten by a tick, remove the tick right away. You can do this by using tweezers or a tick removal kit to detach the tick from your skin. Pull the tick upward and out (making sure not to twist the tick), then clean the area with a disinfectant (like rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide). It’s a good idea to consult with your doctor if you think you might have contracted Lyme disease. Symptoms may include a bullseye rash, chronic fatigue, headaches, muscle or joint pain, and several others. If you’d like to do more research, BCA-clinic can help guide you to a proper diagnosis and treatment options.
At this point, there’s currently no way to avoid the rising rates of Lyme disease in the U.S. The best thing you can do is take preventative action by protecting yourself from being bitten by ticks, and seek medical attention right away if you think you may have contracted Lyme disease.