Tick-Borne disease decline likely due to Coronavirus in N.C.

Cases going unreported despite people spending more time outdoors

August 18, 2020 - 7:54 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C.- The North Carolina Division of Public Health reports cases of tick-borne diseases are down overall compared to last year. A total of 76 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease and 74 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever have been reported as of Aug. 5. 

"Normally, by this time, hundreds of cases would have been reported," said N.C. public health entomologist Alexis Barbarin. Even though state officials are unsure why cases have decreased, the general consensus is healthcare agencies are overwhelmed by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.  

The tick-borne figures from the last year could explain what's happening in the Tar Heel state. A reported 343 cases of Lyme disease and 685 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever held steady compared to the previous five-year averages. A record amount people are spending time in North Carolina's wilderness areas due to Coronavirus. Despite those people being exposed to tick-infested areas, no reported spikes in confirmed illnesses have been reported. 

Although, data shows internet traffic for "tick-related" searches have increased in North Carolina since March. Around the same time Governor Roy Cooper issued a stay-at-home order. 

“There’s no way to prove this, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the hits increase because people are getting tick bites and have questions,”said Marcia Herman-Glidden, a University of North Carolina professor and scientific adviser for TIC-NC. The percentage people with tick bites using the internet as a self-care resource are advised to seek medical attention immediately.     

Spreading toward the south

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of Lyme disease are showing up even further toward the southwestern areas of North Carolina, including the Charlotte metro area. A majority of cases are typically reported along the Appalachian mountain range and in the surrounding counties of the northwestern part of the state. 

Ticks are common in all areas of North Carolina with an increased risk, but especially in wooded areas. The CDC recommends the use of insect repellents, along with checking for ticks after being outdoors.     

Lyme disease has a positive case rate of 3.3 per 100,000 people in N.C., with a gradual increase over the past five years. Symptoms of many tick-borne diseases are similar to those of Coronavirus, and like the infectious airborne illness, may be fatal if untreated. Early warning signs can appear within days or up to weeks with headache, fever, rash, chills, general fatigue, and swollen joints as the common symptoms. 

The CDC says roughly 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the U.S. every year, about ten times fewer than the actual number of cases that occur. 

Livestock and domesticated animals are at-risk for contracting tick-borne diseases as well. Check with a local veterinary expert on how to protect your animals.  

For more information on tick-borne diseases, visit the NCDHHS website or cdc.gov. 

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