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Experts warn of heightened lyme disease threat this spring, summer

As the weather turns warmer, those headed outdoors should be aware of heightened risk for Lyme disease this year, experts say.

"We know that it’s going to be a risky year," according to Felicia Keesing, an ecologist at Bard College, who specializes in studying ticks and Lyme disease.

When there are large numbers of acorns, as Keesing and her team witnessed in the fall of 2015 in the northeastern United States, there tends to be a high volume of mice the following summer, she said.

A large number of mice is indicative that the late spring and early summer of the following year- in this case, 2017- will feature a heightened risk for Lyme disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), mice are carriers for a specific bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks use both mice and humans as hosts, and when they transfer from rodents to people, they bring the bacterium with them which lead to Lyme disease.

The reported number of Lyme disease cases has grown drastically in the last 20 years.

Mainly concentrated in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest, confirmed cases have increased from just over 10,000 in 1995 to over 25,000 in 2015. Approximately 12,000 other cases may have gone unconfirmed.

After being bitten, people may find a rash at the site of the tick bite, which can resemble a mosquito bite. However, after several days, the site of the bite can "clear out," resembling a bull's-eye.

tick on skin

Lyme disease can often be mistaken for the flu, with fever, aches, pains and swollen lymph nodes. However, the effects of the disease are much more destructive.

If left untreated, Lyme disease may lead to severe headaches, arthritis, pain in joints and tendons and even memory loss.

To prevent tick bites, the CDC recommends repellents that contain 20 to 30 percent of active ingredients like DEET and picaridin on exposed skin and products that contain permethrin on clothing.

People entering a tick habitat should wear light-colored clothing so insects are easier to spot and tuck the bottom of their pants into their socks to avoid ticks from contacting the skin.

Keesing also recommends doing a tick check after emerging from a tick environment and again at the end of the day.

Prevention and awareness are the first steps to fighting back against Lyme disease, she said.