Lyme disease remains one of the most common tick-borne illnesses in the United States. Sadly, the number of cases has increased through the years.
According to the CDC, the reported incidents of Lyme disease went up to 36,000 from 20,000 between 2004 and 2016. However, experts believed that these are not the real figures. About 300,000 people may actually have the condition every year.
Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose since the symptoms can mimic those of other illnesses, particularly in the beginning. Thus, cases often go unreported or misdiagnosed. But there may be other factors that may be causing the uptick (no pun intended).
Why Lyme Disease Is Spreading in the US
Usually, the best time to call for mosquito and tick extermination is during the summer months. Over the past few years, this service is in demand most of the time of the year. This is because studies seem to show ticks, and Lyme disease, are spreading more quickly.
The following may help explain why:
- Ticks Know How to Protect Themselves Better
How do people get Lyme disease in the first place? It’s through a bite from a deer tick. This tick may also come from animals, like pets, as their fur makes excellent hiding places. However, these creatures cannot pass the ticks to humans. These critters should get into contact with the skin.
Once they bite into the skin, they release the bacteria they’ve been carrying, and this pathogen enters the bloodstream.
What many don’t know is that scientists have actually learned that the bacteria found on the skin may have the mechanism to kill these ticks. The problem is it’s having a hard time doing so.
Now, a 2020 research in Cell seems to have the answer. These critters also carry an antibacterial enzyme known as Dae2, which other experts consider a toxin.
An earlier study dating back to 2015 notes that ticks acquired this enzyme after interacting with some ancient bacteria that continue to be unknown.
But the most recent study showed how this enzyme is beneficial to ticks—that is, they help protect them against skin microbes while allowing them to carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
So far, the experts confirmed this protection when they removed the enzyme and exposed the ticks to skin bacteria. The critters died fast. But unless they develop a strategy to officially turn off the ticks’ ability to produce this enzyme, they can continue to wreak havoc on human health.
- Age Can Be an Issue
While anyone can develop Lyme disease—as long as deer ticks can successfully bite them—some people may be more predisposed or susceptible to it. The impact may be more severe for this population.
In a 2016 study by the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, researchers learned a strong correlation between the risk of getting an infection and age. In particular, the older the person gets, the higher is their chance of experiencing the infection.
It’s all because of the immune response. When the body detects invaders, like tick bacteria, they release substances, such as cytokines. These are signaling molecules that help regulate other chemicals responsible for mounting a fight against the pathogen.
The study shared that the production of cytokines can decrease as the person grows old. In turn, it may affect the body’s defense system.
But why does this matter in the United States? The country has a rapidly aging population. According to the Urban Institute, the number of people 65 years old and above will increase by more than twofold within the next 40 years.
As early as now, a growing number of Americans are prone to having Lyme disease, the impact of which can be life-threatening.
- Global Warming Can Change the Feeding Cycles of Ticks
Ticks that cause Lyme disease don’t carry the bacteria right away. They get it when they feed on animals that already have the pathogen. All they need is three blood meals for every stage of their lives (and there are three).
But the climate has a lot to do when they feed, the strength of the bacterial strain, and even the persistence of the infection, according to a 2009 Yale University study. For example, because of the long gap of feeding in the Northeast, bacterial strains have more opportunities to evolve and become virulent.
Climate change, though, may modify their feeding cycle. Global warming, after all, affects seasonal temperatures. In turn, even Midwestern regions may follow the same fast as the Northeast.
Currently, scientists are working on a vaccine to help treat or cure Lyme disease. But as the cliché goes, prevention will always be better than cure.
While other experts are figuring out how to understand the illness better, Americans can avoid these ticks by getting professional help or wearing long sleeves and pants when out in the outdoors, among other helpful tips.