Where Is Lyme Disease Most Common? Mapping Lyme Disease Risk in the US

Where Is Lyme Disease Most Common?

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Lyme disease can cause serious illness in dogs, cats, and humans, and is more prevalent in some parts of the United States. Find out where Lyme disease risk is the highest.

Lyme disease is a dangerous bacterial disease spread by ticks. Dogs are more suceptible to it than cats, especially dogs that go hiking with their pet parents. Deer ticks, the most common carriers of Lyme disease, live in forested, shady areas, and wait for a host to come walking by. Humans can also contract Lyme disease, sometimes to life-altering effect. So where is Lyme disease most common?

The disease was first identified in Lyme, Connecticut, hence it's name, and it's still most common in the Northeast of the US. All 48 connected states have reported cases of Lyme, however, so all pet parents should be aware of the dangers and know what Lyme disease symptoms to look for and how to remove a tick.

United States Lyme Disease Risk to Dogs Map


This map, from Lymeinfo.com, a site run by pharmaceutical Boehringer Ingelheim, shows the areas of the US where dogs are most at risk for Lyme disease. In the red zone, almost 75% of unvaccinated dogs will test positive for Lyme in their lifetime!

Lyme Disease in Humans

It has not been proven that Lyme disease is contagious, either from dogs and cats to one another, or to humans. However, dogs and cats may bring disease-carrying ticks into the home. Ticks can absolutely impart Lyme disease to humans and other pets, and this is the most important thing to look for. Lyme disease in humans can result in debilitating symptoms like permanent brain damage, and even hallucinations, so you should take steps to prevent Lyme, and identify and treat it early.

Step 1: Avoid Ticks

If your pet plays in wooded areas, in tall grasses, or interacts with other animals who have exposure to tickscheck them regularly. While giving them affection, check their bodies and ears for ticks. If you find any, remove them and kill them.

Be sure to check your own body for ticks as well. Most human cases of Lyme come from the immature form of ticks, which can be as small as the head of a pin, and whose bites are painless.

If youโ€™re able to remove ticks from the body within 12-18 hours, chances are everyone will be safe. Left undetected for any longer, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease may be transferred. Tick bites do not impart Lyme disease 100% of the time, so you may be just fine. Still, look for signs of Lyme in the coming days and weeks.

Step 2: Early Detection

When Lyme disease is present, humans -- like dogs -- may begin to show symptoms that appear as a general lack of wellness. Symptoms may be flu- or allergy-like, and can present as early as a few days and as late as a few weeks after the bite.

A ring-like rash with a bite at the center is a clear indication of Lyme disease, and you should see a doctor immediately. However, this helpful indication isnโ€™t always present. Sometimes a rash will occur at the bite site, and sometimes it will occur elsewhere around the body. Rashes may vary in shape and texture, so it may not be clear what youโ€™re dealing with.

As soon as you suspect you may have Lyme, head to the doctor. Left untreated, the bacteria that causes Lyme can fester. In some cases, Lyme may become chronic, which can cause serious neurological damage, and affect respiratory, heart, and reproductive functions a few months or even years down the line.

Step 3: Treatment

Experts agree that the earlier Lyme is treated, the more effective treatment will be.

Antibiotics are the most common, and to date the safest, method of treatment for early Lyme disease. Courses of antibiotics may last a few weeks, or longer. Sometimes, symptoms continue to persist, even after a course of antibiotics. At this stage, treatments become highly individualized.

Chronic Lyme disease can be very traumatic. Some consider long-term Lyme symptoms to be similar to living with chronic heart disease. Itโ€™s clearly important to check yourself and your pet early and often for ticks.

Tick Prevention in Pets and Humans

Lyme disease prevention is essentially tick-prevention.

Prevention for your pet:

Consider a monthly spot-on treatment for your pet, to deter ticks. If your pet frolics in high-infestation areas, consider additional repellants like a flea and tick collar. Most collars protect only the face and neck from ticks, but every little bit helps. Just be sure to know what type of collar you're using and if you should remove the collar before bringing your pet back inside. Check the packaging or ask your vet.

Prevention for yourself:

Debbie Hadley, a naturalist, teacher, and insect expert, says the best way to avoid ticks in everyday life is by doing regular checks before allowing pets and kids back in the house after outdoor time. She says, โ€œTicks can easily drop onto carpets or furniture, where theyโ€™ll wait for a bloodmeal to come along. Before coming back inside, strip down and search all those places that ticks love to hide: in your hair, under your arms, behind the knees, and even in your belly button.โ€ Remember to check between your dogโ€™s toes, and in their ears as well.

When camping or hiking, she suggests, โ€œusing a product with 20% DEET or higher on both skin and clothing.โ€ Carefully applied, of course. She also recommends applying Permethrin products โ€œto clothing, tents, and outdoor furniture.โ€ She cautions that, โ€œPermethrin products should never be used on human skin.โ€ (Although Permethrin is a common ingredient in some pet spot-on repellants.) Permethrin for use on objects is sold under the names Permanone and Duranon.

The best prevention, all experts agree, for pets as well as for yourself, is early detection. Look for ticks, and remove them as soon as possible.

More on Protecting Dogs and Cats

Get Rid of Fleas in 8 Steps - Infographic
How to Find Fleas and Ticks
Flea and Tick Treatment

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