As if we all need another health problem, the season for Lyme disease has arrived.
A walk in the forest can be an attractive way to relieve the stress caused by blocking the coronavirus, but it carries an underestimated risk: ticks that carry Lyme and other diseases.
Some of the basic symptoms of a Lyme infection – fever, malaise, fatigue – can resemble Covid-19. This is a concern that no one needs. In addition, getting a serious illness like Lyme can put you at greater risk with Covid.
"We already know that people with underlying conditions are more vulnerable to coronavirus complications," said Shannon L. Delaney, neuropsychiatrist and director of child and adolescent assessment at Columbia University's Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Research Center. . "Certainly, people with tick-borne diseases fall into this category."
Fortunately, you don't have to skip that walk in the forest. Understanding Lyme disease can help you minimize your risk.
Where? Lyme disease is Most prevalent on the east coast of the United States, from Virginia to Maine, and from the western regions of New York and Pennsylvania to the east coast and to Atlantic Canada. It is also found in the Upper Midwest, mainly in Wisconsin and Minnesota. But is range is expanding. "Now it is also spreading to Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and the southern part of Midwest Canada," said Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist and tick expert at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.
Cases are also found in states outside these hot spots, including California, Texas and Florida, but the numbers remain comparatively low.
Ticks like the forest. "They tend to be much more scarce on the pitch, although they do exist," said Ostfeld. Ticks tend to live in shady forests with litter and in the type of barberry or honeysuckle shrubs that tend to cover the understory near neighborhoods and roads.
"They are extremely abundant in small forest areas of a few acres or less," said Ostfeld. "Large stretches of continuous forest tend to house fewer ticks than small fragments of forests in the suburbs or in an agricultural landscape." This is because these patches tend to have higher concentrations of mice with disease, due to the lack of predators. "Owls, foxes, bobcats, weasels are doing us a favor," said Ostfeld, but fragmented wood tends to have very few of them to keep the rat population under control.
Based on research on acorns, which provide food for mice, Ostfeld said he expected 2020 to be "an average year or slightly below average for ticks". The acorn sign for next year, however, is very clear: “Last fall was a huge acorn year. So, we expect 2021 to be a very bad Lyme year. "
Ostfeld added that it is a myth that deer are the main carriers of Lyme disease. The so-called "deer tick" was given a wrong name when it was first discovered, he said. "We learned that it was just a population of the northern black-footed tick," which binds at least 50 different species of mammals, including mice and squirrels, and is the tick species that most transmits disease to humans.
Deer can carry Lyme, but in reality, the main culprits in terms of disease transmission are white-legged mice. Newborn ticks attach themselves to mice and other small rodents, acquiring bacteria from the first blood meal and passing them on to other mammals, including humans, the following year.
When? Is it above 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 7 degrees Celsius? In that case, ticks will be disabled. Climate change, by the way, is making the Lyme season start early every year, and making the season last longer.
What to wear? Basically, long sleeves and long pants. Dr. Delaney recommends tucking your pants into your socks so that ticks don't get up your legs. Wearing light colored clothes is a good idea, so that dark ticks appear easily.
She also recommends that you spray your clothes, shoes and socks with the permethrin insecticide, which kills ticks on contact.
Permethrin should not be sprayed on the skin. Instead, treat exposed skin with DEET or a chemical called IR3535, which it says is most common in Europe, and has an excellent safety record. If you are carrying bags for outdoor sports, such as tennis, spray them as well.
Where to walk? Stay in the way. Leaving the trail puts you directly on the leaves and the brushed area that marks love. "That's where ticks stay. You'll increase your risk of tick bites," says Brian A. Fallon, a psychiatrist and director of the Lyme and Tick-borne Disease Research Center at Columbia University.
When you get home: Inspect your clothes and your body for ticks. If you find one on your skin, remove it immediately and consult your doctor. She can apply prophylactic antibiotics to prevent Lyme infection.
Rapid removal is important. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease, by far the most common tick-borne disease in North America, is believed to be transmitted after the tick has been attached for at least 24 hours (although other tick-borne diseases can transmit a lot more quickly). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructions for removing ticks.
You must save the visa, because you can (and should) send it to a commercial laboratory for analysis. It is helpful to understand which, if any, of the many tick-borne illnesses you have been exposed to if you develop symptoms later. In Connecticut, the state administers a laboratory that will analyze your tick free.
Strolling your clothes in the dryer after this walk is also a good idea, even if you don't find ticks. A little more than 10 minutes should be enough to kill anyone who goes unnoticed.
Lyme symptoms can appear anytime between two days and three weeks after a bite. Fever, fatigue and malaise are the main symptoms of Lyme and are also among the symptoms of a coronavirus infection. "But the main difference is the presentation of respiratory symptoms," said Delaney. This means that if you are coughing, it is probably not Lyme.
It is crucial to inform your doctor about any recent walks or outdoor activities. The sooner you receive treatment for tick-borne diseases, the better the result.
"If we are changing our behavior in terms of outdoor exposure, we need to think about it," said Delaney. “Remember to bring this to your doctor. These tick-borne diseases must be on your radar.