MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — This year is shaping up to be another big Lyme disease season in Vermont.
For the past decade, tick-borne Lyme disease has been on the rise in New England. When the Vermont Health Department started tracking the disease in 1990, they found only 14 cases in the state, according to Bradley Tompkins, an infectious disease specialist. In 2015, nearly 500 people caught Lyme disease in Vermont.
"The overall trend is it's increasing, clearly," Tompkins said. Vermont can expect to see anywhere from 400 to 600 cases this year, he added.
As the earth warms and pushes the tick habitat farther north, researchers would expect ticks to follow and only spread there, Tompkins said. But researchers are finding ticks farther south as well, indicating climate change isn't totally to blame.
A more likely reason has to do with the animals that carry ticks and how people are developing land, Tompkins said.
"We cleared much of the Northeast centuries ago and gradually over time that space has been reforested. We've now got these patches of forest which creates a wonderful habitat for white-footed mice and deer," Tompkins said.
Only about 3 percent of people who get Lyme need to go to the hospital, Tompkins said. But if left untreated, the long-term effects can be harrowing. Memory issues, mood swings, joint and muscle pain can all be felt long after the initial bite.
Ralph Budd, a research professor and doctor who runs the Vermont Center for Immunology and Infectious diseases at the University of Vermont Medical Center, investigates an advanced stage of Lyme that causes a type of arthritis. It affects about 10 percent of people with Lyme.
The pain in their joints is from arthritic inflammation and is treated with the same type of anti-inflammatory medicine use for rheumatoid arthritis, Budd said. Very rarely, the disease can be fatal, he added.
Ticks will come out anytime it's not freezing, Tompkins said. Light-colored and long shirts and pants help keep them visible and off the body.
Hunters swear by a chemical called permethrin, Tompkins said, which will kill ticks on contact and sticks to clothes through a few wash cycles.
Ticks take nearly a day to transmit the disease after they've latched on, Budd said.
"If you're attentive you should be able to get a tick off before it transmits the disease," he said.