The spread of tickborne infections has risen significantly in the past decade, with the upward trend likely to continue, according to a recent report by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
Lyme disease represents the majority of tickborne infections in the United States, affecting 82 percent of reported cases. NIAID researchers noted that several likely factors have helped increase Lyme disease incidences in the country, but greater tick densities and their expanding geographical range have played a key role. A particular hard-bodied tick, which is the primary source of Lyme disease in the northeastern United States, was present in nearly 50 percent more counties between 1996 and 2015.
While Lyme disease is successfully treated with antibiotics in most cases, tickborne infections can cause severe illness and death with diseases like the Powassan virus (POWV), which can cause fatal neurological conditions. Death from POWV only had 20 reported cases in the United States prior to 2006. In the decade since, 99 cases were reported.
As the public health burden increases, the researchers said the only way forward is for public health officials and scientists to expand knowledge of the diseases involved, improve diagnostics, and work on preventative vaccines. Lyme disease, for example, has no vaccine currently on the market.
The report encourages healthcare providers to advise their patients to wear repellants, to wear long pants when in the woods or working outdoors, and to constantly check for ticks.