Lyme disease – How to protect yourself

Lyme Disease (Lyme borreliosis) is an illness that affects both animals and humans – what is known as a zoonotic disease – and is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Transmitted through tick bites, the disease can be difficult to detect and can cause serious and recurring health problems. Therefore, it is best to prevent infection by taking appropriate measures to prevent tick bites and, for dogs, possibly vaccinating against the disease.

The bacterium that causes Lyme disease – a worm-like, spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi  – is carried and transmitted primarily by the tiny black-legged tick known as the deer tick. Deer ticks are found in forests or grassy, wooded, marshy areas near rivers, lakes or oceans. People or animals may be bitten by deer ticks during outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, or even while spending time in their back yards.

Within the U.S., it appears primarily in specific areas including the southern New England states; eastern Mid-Atlantic states; the upper Midwest, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota; and on the West Coast, particularly northern  The number of Lyme disease cases reported by all Canadian provinces increased from 144 in 2009 to 992 in 2016 (representing an increase from 0.4 to 2.7 per 100,000 population over this time period). In 2016, over 88% of the cases reported were from Ontario, Québec and Nova Scotia. Surveillance in these three provinces indicates that populations of blacklegged ticks have been established for years, with an increase in the abundance of ticks being found in previously identified risk areas. In addition to this, the percentage of the blacklegged tick infected with the Lyme disease pathogen has increased. Nova Scotia reported the highest incidence in Canada in 2016 at 34.4 per 100,000 population, which is 12.7 times the national average. disease.  The CDC maintains a map detailing confirmed cases of Lyme disease throughout the years.

Lyme disease (like the current zoonotic disease Covid) is a reportable disease – which means that health care providers and laboratories that diagnose cases of laboratory-confirmed Lyme disease are required to report those cases to their local or state health departments, which in turn report the cases to the CDC.

The best way to protect pets from Lyme disease is to take preventive measures to reduce the chance of contracting the disease. Even during the last weeks of summer, it’s important to remember that pets and people are at greater risk of being infected with Lyme disease.

To protect yourself and your pets it is important to use reliable tick-preventive products. Speak with your veterinarian about what tick preventive product is right for your pet.  Vaccinations for Lyme disease are available and is important to work with your vet to decide to vaccinate based on where you live, your pet’s lifestyle and overall health.  When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found. These include tall grasses, marshes and wooded areas and check for ticks on you and your dog once you have come inside.  Keeping your shrubs and lawns well maintained. Lyme disease may not show up in your dog for 2 – 5 months after being bitten.  If you dog develops a fever, loss of appetite, has a change in mobility either from lameness or inflamed joints it is important to contact your vet and test for Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is not communicable from one animal to another, except through tick bites. However, if you have more than one pet and one is diagnosed with Lyme disease, your veterinarian might recommend testing for any other pets who may have been exposed to ticks at the same time. In fact, because people and their pets often can be found together outdoors as well as indoors, a Lyme disease diagnosis in any family member – whether human or non-human – should serve as a flag that all family members might consult their physicians and veterinarians, who can advise about further evaluation or testing.

Thousands of cases of Lyme disease have been reported in humans and animals across the United States and around the world. By knowing about Lyme disease and how to prevent it, you can help keep all members of your family — human and animal — safe.

Lyme disease in people

In humans, often the earliest indication of infection is a “bullseye” rash at the site of the tick bite – so named because it resembles a target. As the infection develops, symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. The disease can progress to cause chronic joint problems as well as heart and neurological problems. As with pets, Lyme disease is not contagious from one person to another.  Protect yourself by avoiding areas where ticks are found, cover arms, legs and feet when outdoors, check for ticks when you come in for a hike or walk and use insecticides to protect yourself.

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