Lyme Disease Cases Down From Last Year, but Up In General
The new data reinforce the importance of preventing Lyme disease by dressing properly and doing daily tick checks if you spend time outdoors in high-risk areas, according to Marshall and other experts.
"Lyme disease prevention starts with preventing tick bites," she says, and personal protective measures can help reduce the risk of getting bitten.
Individuals who are exposed to tick-infested areas should wear light-colored clothing so that ticks can be spotted and removed more easily. "Wearing long-sleeved shirts and tucking pants into socks or boot tops can help keep ticks from reaching the skin," she says.
Ticks are usually located close to the ground, so wearing high rubber boots may provide additional protection. The CDC recommends applying insect repellents containing DEET to exposed skin, and permethrin (which kills ticks on contact) to clothes.
There are ways to reduce the number of ticks in residential areas such as removing leaf litter, removing brush-and-wood piles around houses and at the edges of yards, and clearing trees and brush to admit more sunlight and reduce the amount of suitable habitat for deer, rodents, and ticks.
"Since reporting started in 1980, the numbers have gone up and down and up and down," points out Karen Forschner, chair of the board of directors of the Lyme Disease Foundation, based in Hartford, Conn.
People should not derive a false sense of security from the new data, she says. "The numbers for 2000 may be down again because of droughts in many states during that year," she says. "Ticks don't survive in dryness. They need moist, humid weather."
States such as Texas, Maryland, Nebraska, and West Virginia, which typically have small numbers of Lyme disease cases, are also showing increases, she says.
"People shouldn't interpret Lyme disease case-count numbers as indicating whether or not ticks in their area will spread disease," she says. "Other ticks spread other diseases in others states."
Her advice is similar to Marshall's. "Dress properly in the summer in tick-infested areas, which means wearing light clothing, shirt tucked into pants and pants tucked into socks, but when it gets really hot in the Northeast, that's not practical advice," she notes.