Skip to main content.

Why Are Tick-Borne Illnesses On The Rise And What Do I Need To Know?

Posted May 31, 2022 by Shivonne N. Suttles, MD

Beware of Ticks signs

This summer as you head out for hikes in the woods, camping and other fun outdoor activities, beware of unwelcomed visitors — ticks.

The tick population is on the rise and expanding their geographical range, and with that comes an increase in tick-borne illnesses. In fact, the annual number of cases of tick-borne diseases in the United States has nearly doubled since 2004, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with Lyme disease representing the majority of cases.

Lyme disease, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, is transmitted to people by the bite of an infected blacklegged (or deer) tick. However, ticks can also spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and more.

Generally speaking, the tick needs to be attached for 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted. There are exceptions to this time rule, but the sooner you remove the tick, the lower your chances are of contracting the disease.

But, why are tick-borne illnesses on the rise in recent decades? Certainly, better recognition of symptoms and disease reporting can be attributed to the increase, but many experts believe environmental factors play a role, too.

One reason for a heavy increase in cases is a much larger and longer tick season, which increases the potential for human encounters with ticks. As parts of the country experience earlier springs and longer falls due to climate change, the optimal deer tick activity season (May - October) is ending later, and in some cases starting earlier.

In addition, warmer temperatures due to climate change are enabling ticks to spread and thrive in new areas. Warmer winters also increase the likelihood that ticks will survive them.

Suburban development also has brought people closer to forests and grasslands where ticks, deer, rodents and the germs they carry are often present.

In addition, new construction breaks up forests into isolated chunks, which enable rodents to thrive because there are lower numbers of larger predators. As rodent numbers rise, ticks have more hosts to feed on and it increases the odds of a tick feeding on a disease-harboring rodent. In fact, some studies have shown that tick-borne illnesses go up when rodent predators go down.

Protection against Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses

The only way to prevent yourself and your family from tick-borne illnesses is to not get bitten in the first place. While exploring outdoors, take these precautions:

  • Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter. Walk in the center of trails when hiking.
  • Use an insect repellent that contains DEET.
  • Consider wearing long sleeves, pants and closed-toed shoes in wooded or grassy areas.
  • Treat dogs for ticks.
  • Bathe as soon as possible after coming in from the outdoors. This way you can wash off ticks or even find them before they have a chance to bite.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a mirror to check every area of your body. If found, remove ticks right away.
  • Put dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks after you come indoors.

What to do if you have a tick bite

If you find a tick on your skin, remove it as soon as possible. A plain set of fine-tipped tweezers works well. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upward with a steady, even pressure. Then, clean the bite area thoroughly with rubbing alcohol or soap and warm water. 

Watch the bite site over the next few weeks for signs of illness. Call your primary care provider right away if you develop any of the following:

  • Skin rash, resembling a bullseye, around the infected bite
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint swelling and pain

Prompt diagnosis and treatment are important if you contract a tick-borne illness, such as Lyme disease. Diagnosis can be based on the presence of the rash in the early stage or by a blood test in the later stages. 

If the disease is caught in the early stage of the rash, within a few days or weeks, an antibiotic can be quite successful at treating the illness.

However, if left untreated, the infection can spread to the heart, joints and even the nervous system as part of later-stage infection, which can occur up to several months after the bite. The infection can become a serious condition that causes symptoms such as arthritis, heart palpitations, nerve pain and brain swelling. Antibiotics may also help in treating these later stages of infection.

Understanding the risk of tick-borne illnesses in your community and taking every precaution when venturing into the wilderness is the best way to prevent disease.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, see your primary care physician as soon as possible. To make an appointment with a Summa Health physician, call 234.867.7965.

About the Author

Shivonne N. Suttles, MD

Vitality eNews Sign Up

Receive the Summa Health eNewsletter for the latest health tips, advice and updates.

Related Blogs

View all Flourish Blogs

Navigating the World of HIV and AIDS [Podcast]

Dr. Hite discusses HIV and AIDS, explains how the infection progresses, answers frequently asked questions, and reminds viewers about prevention and treatment options.

Vaccines: What You Need to Know

As we enter the fall and winter virus season, we want you to know how you can best protect yourself and others from getting sick. There are a lot of questions about vaccines that we want to answer for you here. 

The three viruses that cause the most hospitalizations this time of year are:

  • Influenza (flu)
  • SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) 
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
All three viruses can potentially cause severe infections in adults, especially for those with underlying…

HIV Prevention with PrEP Medications: Key Facts and Benefits [Podcast]

Join us as we explore PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), a powerful tool in preventing HIV infection. We'll cover its definition and remarkable effectiveness in reducing the risk of HIV transmission.

5 Viruses That Can Cause Complications Later

Viruses are a natural part of our daily lives. Fortunately, most viral infections clear after a few days to weeks when the body’s immune system launches an attack against them. However, some viruses, known as latent viruses, can remain in the body silently after the initial infection for prolonged periods without causing any symptoms and reactivate later on.

Latency is a survival strategy some viruses use to stay alive and spread. Latent viruses remain in the body and…

How to Determine if it's COVID-19, the Flu or Common Cold

It’s that time of year again. You just woke up with a fever, sore throat and cough. Could it be COVID-19? The flu? Maybe just the common cold?

Different viruses that infect the respiratory tract can cause any of these illnesses. All of them are contagious and share similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to distinguish between COVID-19, the flu and common cold.

COVID-19 is a contagious respiratory disease caused by infection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The flu is…

7 Healthy Habits To Boost Your Immune Response

Getting sick is a fact of life. But, developing healthy habits now may help you reduce your number of sick days this winter as cold and flu season looms ahead.

The body’s immune system is a complex network of cells and organ systems that work together to protect you and your family against infection and disease. It fights everything from cold and flu viruses, including COVID-19, to dangerous bacteria to cancer. A strong immune response is influenced by many factors,…

Summa Health Answers Your Top Questions About Monkeypox

Everywhere you turn, headlines are reporting on the latest virus to hit our country: monkeypox. At the time of this post, nearly 11,000 cases have been confirmed since the virus began spreading across the country in May and the United States declared it a public health emergency earlier this month.

But what is monkeypox? Who’s most at risk? What are the symptoms? Summa Health answers your top questions about monkeypox to help reduce your risk of infection and slow the…

Is it Psoriasis, Eczema or Something Else?

Are you suffering from a red, dry, itchy rash that just won’t go away? Could it be psoriasis? Eczema? You may be desperate to get relief from symptoms, but it’s important to know what’s causing you trouble first. Psoriasis and eczema are both inflammatory chronic skin diseases that share similar symptoms, but they have very different causes and therefore, can have very different treatments.

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes skin cells to…

Viral hepatitis: What you need to know

The liver is one of the largest and busiest organs in the body. Your liver spends its days processing nutrients, filtering blood and fighting infection, among other important jobs.

That’s why the hepatitis virus, which infects the liver, can be a major threat to this vital organ. When your liver is inflamed or damaged, it cannot function correctly.

The most common hepatitis viruses in the United States are hepatitis A, B and C. These viruses cause liver infections and…

Getting Help for Long-Term Post-COVID Symptoms [Podcast]

While most people with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health within a few weeks, others have symptoms that linger for months after recovery. Even people who have had mild versions of the virus can experience persistent or late symptoms. These people are often referred to as "long haulers" and the condition has been termed post-COVID syndrome or "long COVID-19."

What You Know About Sepsis Could Save Your Life

Whether it is a urinary tract infection, sinus infection, or an infected wound, most people consider these things to be a part of life. While many infections clear up on their own or with antibiotic medications, some infections progress to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.

According to the Sepsis Alliance, 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with sepsis every year. What’s more, sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals, accounting for 35% of all…

Why is it so important to get your flu shot this year?

Last winter, the community took several precautions to help stop the spread of COVID-19. From masks and social distancing to virtual work and school to cancelled events, an unforeseen positive side effect was a less intense flu season.  

Flu cases documented during last year’s flu season were historically low by a wide margin. Medical professionals haven’t seen anything like it.  

So with many precautions still in place amidst an ongoing pandemic, you may be…

How to tell the difference between COVID-19 and seasonal allergies

At the first sign of a scratchy throat or cough, people can’t help but wonder whether they’ve contracted COVID-19 — and rightfully so.

But just because you have a sore throat and cough, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve contracted COVID-19. Pollen counts are high, affecting you or someone you know with seasonal allergies.

COVID-19and seasonal allergies both affect the respiratory system and share similar symptoms, so it can be difficult to…

Coughing etiquette 101

When you are suffering from a respiratory infection, you risk spreading the infection through your cough. In fact, each cough expels thousands of tiny, infectious droplets that travel up to six feet away.

Those droplets can be inhaled by others or land on their face. Droplets also can fall on and contaminate nearby surfaces, where they can be easily transferred to another’s hands.

Coughing etiquette, combined with facial coverings and social distancing, is the best way to…

5 unusual COVID-19 symptoms you need to know about

Fever, dry cough and shortness of breath are the telltale signs of a COVID-19 infection. But, those aren’t the only symptoms that have been linked to the virus. Other symptoms include chills, muscle or body aches, sore throat, fatigue and congestion.

As we learn more about this dangerous virus and its full range of symptoms, doctors are uncovering yet another set that are unusual and uncommon. From lesions to vomiting to deadly blood clots, doctors are discovering COVID-19 is…

Importance of flu shots—even in a pandemic

With an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and influenza (flu) season now upon us, getting the flu vaccine should be at the top of your family’s to-do list this fall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe both the flu virus and COVID-19 could be running rampant this season. That’s why many medical experts agree this year the flu shot is more important than ever before.

Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and peaks between December and…

Summa Health's infectious disease specialist Dr. Thomas File offers the latest updates on COVID-19

We’ve learned a lot about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the past six to eight months since the virus infiltrated our lives and bodies. We now know much more about how it’s spread, symptoms to watch for and how to treat some of them, as well as successful ways to protect ourselves from transmission. 

But, there’s still a long road ahead. There are many unknowns about the virus, including immunity and long-term effects. Summa Health sits down with…

The Latest Updates on COVID-19 [Podcast]

Dr. Thomas File shares the latest updates on COVID-19.

Are outdoor activities safe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic?

As weeks pass by under Ohio’s stay-at-home order, cabin fever is starting to set in for many of us. With nowhere to go and calendars cleared, families are jumping at the chance to get outdoors. Taking your activity outside is a great way to boost your health and wellbeing however, we must take extra precautions to slow the spread of Covid-19.

With summer around the corner there are many things we all look forward to doing outdoors. From cleaning up and planting our…

Myth vs. Fact: What you need to know to protect yourself from COVID-19

New headlines and reports about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are infiltrating the Internet, TV, and social media channels daily, if not hourly. Much of this information is vital for our safety and protection against the virus. However, amidst this global pandemic, there are many myths being passed around that could potentially do more harm than good.


Summa Health is getting to the bottom of the most pertinent questions it is hearing to separate the myths from facts.…

Fighting Coronavirus: When and how to self-quarantine

Handwashing and social distancing help prevent the spread of COVID-19, but certain situations may require more. If you have been in an office or gathering with someone who developed a confirmed case of COVID-19, you may be concerned that you have become infected as well whether you are exhibiting symptoms or not.

Should you quarantine yourself? If so, how and for how long? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend self-quarantine only if you have a medium…

How COVID-19 Affects People With Chronic Diseases

What is COVID-19? 

COVID-19 stands for “COronaVIrus Disease 2019.  COVID-19 is the disease caused by SARS-CoV2 which is a type of coronavirus.  It is characterized by fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but it is only one of many viruses that can cause similar symptoms. In the context of the current outbreak, COVID-19, SARS-CoV2, and coronavirus are often used interchangeably.

Novel Coronavirus: How Summa Health is preparing for any scenario to help keep their staff and patients safe

Everywhere you turn, there are new headlines reporting on the increasing number of cases and unfortunate deaths due to the novel coronavirus. It’s a respiratory infection that was first identified in Wuhan, China, late last year.

At the time of this post, the outbreak has been detected in more than 35 countries, including those in the United States. The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019…

5 Things You Need to Know About HPV to Protect Yourself

By now, you’ve probably heard about human papillomavirus (HPV). Maybe you heard about it in a TV commercial, read about it in a magazine, or maybe you or your child’s doctor recommended the HPV vaccine. But, why is everyone talking about it? Should you be concerned?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States and nearly 80 million people in this country have it. So, what’s all the…

Novel Coronavirus: Here’s what you need to know

Everywhere you turn, there are new headlines reporting on the increasing number of cases and unfortunate deaths due to the novel coronavirus. It’s a respiratory infection that was first identified in Wuhan, China, late last year.

At the time of this post, there have been more than 9800 confirmed cases in China and a dozen other countries, including the United States, and 213 deaths due to the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers the…

Hepatitis: What you need to know

Did you know the liver is the second largest organ of the entire body, after the skin? It’s also incredibly important: essential for food digestion, stores a large amount of your body’s energy and is a cleaning machine, eliminating toxins in the body. Hepatitis, usually caused by a type of virus, is an inflammation of the liver.

There are 5 types of Hepatitis, but Hepatitis A, B and C are the most common. Each type has different symptoms and treatment options.…

Should my teen get the HPV vaccination?

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of more than 150 related viruses. Each HPV virus is identified by a number, known as its “type or strain.” Some of these viruses do nothing at all, some strains lead to genital warts while others can lead to serious types of cancer.

HPV is very common. In fact, at least 14 million people become infected each year. Some estimate at least 40 percent of Americans have at least one strain. The virus is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact with someone who has the virus, during vaginal, anal or oral sex. HPV is so common that nearly all men and women come in contact with an HPV virus at some point in their lives.

Why Adult Immunizations Are Important Too

August is National Immunization Awareness Month. While we mostly think of trips to our child’s primary care physician for shots, it’s very important to maintain our immunization record as we age. Even if you received all of the recommended vaccines as a child, the protection on certain immunizations can decrease over time. You could also be at a higher risk for certain diseases due to travel, job, age, lifestyle or other health conditions.

Ticks and Lyme Disease: Why are rates so high?

Warmer weather is in full force now, and for many of us this season means outdoor activities including camping and exploring, plus the insects that call these spots home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 36,000 cases of Lyme disease reported each year and hundreds to thousands of cases go unreported. Since the CDC began tracking this disease, the number of annual cases has increased dramatically. Between 2004 and 2016, researchers found cases almost doubled from 19,804 to 36,429.

Before we get into possible causes of this increase, let’s explore what Lyme disease is and how to tell if you may have been infected.

PrEP An important tool in HIV prevention

In the United States, about one million people are living with HIV infection, but it’s estimated that 1 in 7 of those infected is not aware that that he or she is HIV positive. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, is where HIV-negative people take a medication to reduce their risk of getting HIV. Currently the only FDA-approved medication for PrEP is Truvada, which is taken once daily for prevention.


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.