A mild winter followed by a warmer spring means more insects survived the cold months. Likewise, people may be more willing to leave the house for the great outdoors earlier in the year. These two circumstances may lead to a large outbreak of Lyme disease this year.
NPR reported that cases of Lyme disease have tripled since the 1990s and even more cases are probably going unreported. This year's forecast predicts more frequent instances of the disease throughout the northeast and even into northern parts of the midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. According to the Detroit Free Press, human cases of Lyme Disease have increased five times over last year's numbers, in Michigan.
Not only are cases of Lyme disease on the rise, they're also going undiagnosed, in many instances. Doctors and nurses must be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of Lyme disease, and they need to communicate with their patients about the most effective ways of preventing transmission. For people in the northeast, stepping out into their backyards could put them at risk for contracting Lyme disease.
Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease
Typically, the disease is transmitted to humans via ticks, which travel around on mice, according to NPR. Climate change, deforestation and lack of predators have caused mice population in the aforementioned regions to grow exponentially. As the mice travel, so do the disease-bearing ticks.
The ailment typically begins with a tick bite. A red bulls-eye forms around the bite area and is usually neither itchy nor painful. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms that follow may seem like influenza. However, in some people, the disease may remain dormant until months later. If left untreated, later symptoms could include joint pain, neurological problems and sometimes severe fatigue and heart problems.
"When caught early, Lyme Disease can be treated with antibiotics."
How Lyme disease is treated
When caught early, a short course of antibiotics can usually remove the infection from the patient. When the disease is left untreated for a long time, a doctor may prescribe a longer regimen of antibiotics such as those used to treat more difficult infections such as tuberculosis, reported LymeDisease.org. Since each patient may react differently to the ailment and its treatment, it's important for physicians to work out the best course of action on a case-by-case basis.
What medical personnel need to know
Physicians and nurses should understand that this year may be a rough one when it comes to instances of Lyme disease. Although the tick-borne disease is often confined to regions in the northeast and midwest, practices across the country should be on the lookout for the telltale signs and symptoms.
When seeing patients who are about to go on a trip to tick-infested areas, there are a few preventative precautions they can suggest. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended using bug repellent with DEET, performing daily tick checks, and avoiding tall grass.
If a patient exhibits the early signs of Lyme Disease, they should contact their primary care physician as soon as possible.