The Zika Virus dominated news coverage this summer. With the 2016 Olympics taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there was international concern over the spread of Zika virus. Zika, which has been linked to microcephaly in infants and may lead to Guillain-Barré syndrome in adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) even issued travel alerts and health advisories in an attempt to prevent rapid spread of the Zika virus.
But with all the buzz about Zika virus, there has been a startling lack of information and education on an insect-borne virus that poses a much greater threat within in the United States. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vectorborne illness in the US, affecting an estimated 2 million people – over 500 times the number of people affected by Zika Virus.
Here’s what you need to know about Lyme disease and how it stacks up against Zika virus:
Lyme is Locally Transmitted
The CDC has had drastically different responses to the threat of Zika Virus as compared to Lyme disease. In early 2016, the CDC declared the Zika outbreak to Emergency Operations Center Level 1 – the highest level.
Zika is primarily spread by the Aedes mosquito, a species found in warm climates. With travel warnings in place and local action to prevent the spread of travel cases, Zika was primarily a concern for people living in or traveling to Central and South American countries this summer. According to the Center for Disease Control, there were just over 3,700 travel cases of Zika reported in the US, and around 100 cases of people who contracted the disease locally.
The spread of black-legged ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease, has not garnered the same amount of attention or concern from CDC officials. Black-legged ticks have spread to nearly half of all US counties. In fact, according to the CDC, there has been a 44.7% increase in counties in the US with recorded presence of black-legged ticks within the last twenty years.
In 2014, there were 26,000 confirmed cases of Lyme Disease in the US, with an additional 6,000 cases that are probable but unconfirmed. The CDC estimates that over 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme Disease in the US every year. That’s 1.5 times the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer, six times that number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and more than nine times the number of people facing Zika virus.
Lyme Has Longer Risk of Exposure
The Aedes mosquito is at its most active in the summer months. Hot temperatures make the mosquito hungrier, and when it feeds on more people, it spreads disease faster. Hot temperatures also increase the mosquito population, increasing risk in June, July and August.
Ticks are active in cooler temperatures, meaning they are available to spread Lyme from early Spring to late Fall! It also means that a greater percentage of the population in the United States is at risk. Lyme is especially prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest, and the CDC reports that disease-carrying ticks are now in half of all the counties in the US.
Lyme Has Lifetime Effects
There’s no doubt that the effects of Zika virus can be devastating. The virus has been linked to birth defects and microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads. There is also research that links Zika virus with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by autoimmune damage to the nervous system.
One of the elements that makes Zika so dangerous is that only 20% of infected people experience symptoms. These symptoms include fever, rash and joint pain, lasting between 1-2 weeks. Fortunately, most patients do not experience lingering symptoms.
On the other hand, Lyme disease can be debilitating, and even deadly. Over 80% of patients experience rash, joint pain, numbness and shooting pains, along with the famous “bullseye” rash.
If not treated early, Lyme disease can become chronic, leading to extreme fatigue and lethargy, neurological pain, and muscle and joint pain. Celebrities like Yolanda Foster and Alec Baldwin have spoken out on their battles with chronic Lyme disease and fighting public perceptions because the long-term effects of the illness are not easily visible.
When it comes to avoiding and preventing tick-borne Lyme Disease, pest control experts recommend the following:
Cover up exposed skin and use insect repellent when doing yard work or outdoor activities.
Keep bushes and shrubs neat and clean up leaves. Store firewood in sunny areas away from the side of your house.
One common misconception that people often have about Lyme disease is that it is spread by ticks carried into an area by deer. Instead, mice and rats are to blame! Taking preventative measures to keep rodents away from your property can protect your family from encountering Lyme-carrying ticks.
Check yourself and your children for ticks after spending significant amounts of time outdoors, especially in heavily wooded areas. Ticks like warm, damp places – so pay special attention to areas where you sweat or where waistbands and straps fall against the body.
Work with a local pest control professional for preventative treatments, like outdoor repellents around your home.
Remove a tick with tweezers as soon as possible. Grab a tick as close to the head as possible and pull slowly and gently to remove it – then dispose of it.
While Zika virus has held news audiences captive this summer, it is important to be educated on the dangers that Lyme disease also poses in the US. Make sure you know what it takes to protect yourself and your family this year!