Tick Diseases Hit Record Levels, U.S. Unprepared to 'Control These Threats,' Warns CDC

An informational card about ticks in maine woods

WASHINGTON -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said tickborne diseases, fueled in part by weather patterns, are at record levels and "the United States is not fully prepared to control these threats."

New data released this week by the CDC showed 59,349 reported cases of diseases spread by tick bites last year, including 42,743 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease, 7,718 cases of anaplasmosis/ehrlichiosis, 6,248 cases of spotted fever rickettsiosis, 2,368 cases of babesiosis, 239 cases of tularemia, and 33 cases of Powassan virus, which can cause severe encephalitis and has no vaccine or antiviral treatment.

All totals for the individual diseases rose from 2016 numbers, when there were 48,610 reports of tickborne disease in the U.S. Back in 2004, that number was 22,527; since then, seven new tickborne pathogens that infect people have been discovered.

The CDC compiles its figures based on reports from state and local health departments. But the 2017 data "capture only a fraction of the number of people with tickborne illnesses," the CDC said Wednesday, as "under-reporting of all tickborne diseases is common, so the number of people actually infected is much higher."

The reason behind the record-setting number of tick-caused illnesses is "unclear," the CDC said, but "a number of factors can affect tick numbers each year, including temperature, rainfall, humidity, and host populations such as mice and other animals." The number of reports can also be influenced by healthcare providers' awareness of tickborne disease.

Disease from ticks, fleas and mosquito bites tripled from 2004 to 2016, and the CDC recently determined that "about 80 percent of vector control organizations lack critical prevention and control capacities."

"More proven and publicly accepted mosquito and tick control methods are needed to prevent and control these diseases," the department said.

The Northeast and Great Lakes region have seen the highest number of tickborne disease cases from 2004-16.

The CDC recommends using EPA-approved insect repellents outdoors, treating clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin or buying pre-treated items, checking your body and clothing for ticks upon return from potentially tick-infested areas including one's own backyard, and showering within two hours of coming indoors to reduce the risk of Lyme disease.