If you live in the Northeast, you know that taking precautions to protect yourself against tick-borne illnesses is especially important this time of year. But, chances are, if you live elsewhere in the country, you don't give ticks—or the diseases they carry—much thought.
These maps just might change your mind.
In a published in PLOS ONE, researchers analyzed data on more than 12 million Lyme disease tests conducted on dogs from 2011 to 2015. They used this information to create forecast maps, which show just how prevalent the disease has been in different parts of the country in the past—and how prevalent it will likely be this year.
According to the maps, the Northeast is most definitely a hotspot for ticks carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. But, believe it or not, these disease-carrying ticks also appear to be prevalent in states in the upper Midwest (think: Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan). Yikes!
It's important to note that this study did look specifically at Lyme disease in dogs. But the researchers say their findings could serve as a good predictor of how prevalent the disease will be in people, too.
"Dogs really are the canary in the coal mine for human infection," study co-author Michael Yabsley, PhD, a parasitologist at the University of Georgia, . "Our research team has evidence that the relationship between canine disease and human disease is strong."
In the end, it's important to look out for signs of tick-borne illness, regardless of where you live. If you start experiencing any of the symptoms of Lyme disease (which include fatigue, low fever and achy muscles or joints), be sure to check in with your doctor—if left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to long-term problems with the heart, nervous system and muscles.