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CDC's New Tick and Lyme Monitoring Program Plans to Map Tick Distribution

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We’re moving into peak Lyme disease season. The number of reported cases peaks each year in June and July. And the incidence of Lyme disease seems to be on the rise. Reports of Lyme disease in the U.S. have tripled since the late 1990s.

 
This year, the CDC has a new tick and Lyme disease monitoring program in place. The goal is to get a better handle on where ticks are established, what disease-causing organisms they carry, and how frequently people encounter them.

What we're really hoping to release are updated maps of the distribution of medically important ticks and also to give the public an idea of how common these germs are in the ticks that can cause disease,” Becky Eisen, a research biologist at the CDC Bacterial Diseases Branch working on a new tick surveillance initiative said.

The new monitoring and surveillance program also hopes to make people aware of where they're at risk so that they can take the precautions needed to avoid tick bites.

The work focuses primarily on the deer tick, also known as the black legged tick. The reason is that the deer tick can carry a number of pathogens that can harm people, most notably, Lyme disease. The research will be expanding to other ticks, too, including Lone Star ticks and the American dog tick.

And there’s another that’s made its way to the U.S. It was discovered in 2017 in New Jersey, the Asian Longhorn tick. The tick is capable of carrying germs that can make people sick, but so far scientists have not found any pathogens that are known to make people sick here in the US. According to Eisen, the USDA is tracking the ticks and the CDC is monitoring potential infection in livestock.

While this new surveillance system will help states report the presence of ticks, it’s important to remember that prevention is key.

“If you can avoid tick habitat when possible you're going to avoid your tick bites. Wearing repellents when you go outdoors can significantly reduce your likelihood of being bitten by a tick,” Eisen said. “If you do go outside and those protective measures fail, always check yourself for ticks and remove them as quickly as possible and if you develop signs or symptoms of illness after exposure to a tick bite, consult your your health care provider.”

She also noted a helpful tool from the EPA that can help you find the best repellent based on your needs when outdoors.

 
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Web content produced by Liz Lerner.

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.