Lyme Disease: New York Health Official Warns of Potential Spike After High Number of Disease-causing Ticks Reported

A health official warned has New Yorkers to watch out for a potentially large number of ticks this summer. Bites from the tiny arachnids can lead to illnesses such as Lyme disease.

Erie County health commissioner Gale Burstein told local station WIVB that officials had already received a large number of tick reports.

The small bugs bite animals and humans in an effort to consume their blood. When ticks latch on to skin, they can transmit germs that cause Lyme disease and other potentially fatal illnesses.

If ticks are removed quickly, they are unlikely to pass on dangerous bacteria. An infected tick typically needs to stay latched on for between 36 and 48 hours to transmit the germs that cause Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The health agency recommends removing ticks with fine-tipped tweezers.

Burstein told WIVB: "Only about 50 percent of adult ticks and about 20 percent of the nymphs are infected with Lyme disease. Just because you do have a tick bite doesn't mean you'll be infected.

Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics. If it's caught in the early stages, patients usually make a full recovery.

Tick, Lyme Disease
File photo: A tick is pictured crawling on human skin. Getty

A rash appears within a few days of a bite in most Lyme disease cases, the CDC reports. It usually emerges about a week after a bite, but it may develop at any point between 3 and 30 days.

It appears at the site of the bite and may slowly expand up to 12 inches across. As it expands, it may partly clear, leaving a distinctive "bulls-eye" pattern, the health agency notes.

But a rash doesn't always indicate Lyme disease. Irritated red skin and small bumps are common after a tick bite, but usually disappear in a couple of days.

Other early Lyme disease symptoms include headaches, fever, chills and aching joints. Later symptoms include nerve pain, short-term memory loss and severe headaches.

Reported cases of Lyme disease have risen dramatically in the U.S. since the late 1990s, the CDC notes. The range of some bacteria-spreading ticks is also growing.

A new tick species was discovered in America in 2017. But as of April this year, it has not been found to carry dangerous bacteria.

The health agency warns climate change may be driving changes to ticks' range and distribution.

CDC spokesperson Kate Fowlie told Newsweek: "Tickborne diseases increasingly threaten the health of people in the United States. In 2017, state and local health departments reported a record number of cases of tickborne disease to CDC, 59,349 cases, up from 48,610 in 2016."

She added: "New tools for preventing tickborne diseases are urgently needed, and everyone should take steps to help protect themselves from tick bites."

The critters are most active in the summer months. They like to live in grassy and wooded areas, as well as on animals.

To protect yourself from tick bites, Burstein suggested wearing clothes that cover your skin. She added it's a good idea to keep lawns trimmed so it's harder for the bugs to make their way onto people. She recommended using insect repellent with at least 25 percent DEET.

The CDC recommends people who spend time outdoors, like hunters, apply products containing 0.5 percent permethrin to their clothes. If you're out on a trail, it's best to stick to the path, rather than walking in long grass.

It's also a good idea to perform daily checks for ticks, focusing on areas like hair, the ears, the navel, between the legs, under the arms and behind the knees.

Fowlie said: "Tickborne diseases are on the rise and prevention should be on everyone's mind, particularly during the spring, summer and early fall when ticks are most active."

This article has been updated with comment from CDC spokesperson Kate Fowlie.