Yes, it’s that time of year again. You know the one: the one where it’s time to start thinking about protecting our pets (and ourselves) from parasite infestations after reveling in the great outdoors. That’s right. With the warmer weather come the pesky little critters that bite, suck and transmit diseases we’d rather not think about but have to. This year, pet owners have a new tool to turn to in order to assess the level of danger in their areas. That tool is a map developed by Clemson University and the University of Georgia showing the prevalence of Lyme disease in the U.S.
Ticks are the carriers of Lyme disease. Often referred to as deer ticks, the actual name of the little bugger that carries and spreads the disease is Borrelia burgdorferi. Once infected, symptoms in humans appear within five to 30 days and include low-grade fever, fatigue, achy muscles and joints and other flu-like symptoms. For canines, it can take between two and five months before they appear. When left unchecked, Lyme disease can cause long-term complications with the central nervous system, muscles and even the heart.
Prevalence of Lyme Disease in U.S.
Hot spots for this decade’s old medical malady (as recognized, at least) have traditionally been in the Northeastern part of the U.S. Most people that live beyond that region have thought themselves relatively safe from the nuisance, but the ticks and the disease itself have apparently been on the move. After research was completed for this study it became clear to the map’s authors that the problem was much more far reaching than originally thought. Close to 12 million tests were conducted between 2011 and 2015 to provide the data.
Companion Animals Parasitic Council
I. Craig Prior, president of the Companion Animals Parasitic Council (CAPC), is hopeful that the study’s results will broaden awareness of the risks involved with the disease and that it will spur people into taking preventative measures. Because the ticks feed on wildlife and those creatures tend to roam, the ticks are moving with them beyond their original range. “Awareness is the key, and forecasting helps people and veterinarians know the potential risk in their county,” Prior has stated.
One of the authors of the study, Christopher McMahan, an assistant professor of mathematical sciences at Clemson, explained that, “Our research into modeling disease in space and time shows us how dynamic canine Lyme disease is on an annual basis. It’s out hope that these maps can be used to optimize patient care by veterinarians and public health officials or physicians.”
His co-author, Michael Yabsley, a scientist at UoG, added, “Dogs really are the ‘canary in the coalmine’ for human infection. Our research team has growing evidence that the relationship between risk of canine infection and human disease is strong.”
Taking Action Against Lyme Disease
The handy map provided shows the hot spots in the U.S. and also gives the determined percentages of exposure in the areas depicted. If you live within an area deemed to be at higher risk, then take the necessary precautions this year to keep you and your pets safe. If you’re unsure of the best ways to go about it, consult with your local veterinarian for assistance. Being proactive is your best defense.