Are People Living In Cities Safe From Lyme Disease?

Make Well - city

This article is intended for customers from all countries other than Germany*

People who live in big metropolis areas aren’t often overly concerned with ticks and tick-borne illnesses. The small disease carriers tend to live in heavily wooded areas, so it’s safe to assume that if one is surrounded by nothing but pavement and high-rises, a tick wouldn’t be anywhere close enough to bite.

Although it is true that the risk of contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite in a big city is rare, it can still occur. Many cities are building up green spaces to give the citizens of these concrete jungles places to get back into touch with nature. This, coupled with the fact that climate change has been linked to increased numbers of tick populations, could lead to a higher risk of infection in more populous areas.

Are there ticks in cities?

Ticks are mainly found in heavily forested areas, and for good reason. The smorgasbord of animals to feed off is high, giving ticks ample opportunity to feed and multiply. Depending on the area, there can also be a lot of foot traffic from unsuspecting nature lovers in sprawling wooded areas due to the upswing in hiking popularity.

The over urbanisation of areas and the expansion of cities can be connected with the spread of ticks throughout metropolitan areas. Bigger animals such as deer and foxes are misplaced when houses go up and suburbs take over formerly vegetative land, but because mice no longer have to worry about their populations being hunted by the predators that used to live in their area, their population grows – and so does the inner-city population of ticks.

The tick life cycle depends heavily on whether or not they find something – or someone – to feed on, and when mice run rampant, it gives ticks the perfect breeding ground to feed and grow in population.

Can you get Lyme disease in the city?

In the city, the ticks that are found in backyards and other green spaces can be infected with Lyme disease just as easily as those found in the forest. In fact, tick populations in the city tend to grow with mice populations after urbanisation projects displace the natural predators of the mice, and because white-footed mice are generally the main host for ticks, this could mean that city ticks are even more heavily diseased than country ticks.

 

Make Well - rodent
Image by Alexas Fotos on Pixabay: The white-footed mouse is one of the primary host for city-dwelling ticks.

 

Ticks are natural disease carriers because of the way they feed. They bite and suck the blood of their host, and if a pathogen is present, they spread it to the next host they feed on. The most notable tick-borne illness is Lyme disease. Lyme disease was first diagnosed in 1975 in rural Connecticut after being mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis in patients exhibiting the symptoms prior to that date.

Acute cases of Lyme often exhibit as flu-like symptoms and a bullseye rash at the bite site. Even if Lyme disease is treated early with antibiotics, it can still become chronic. Chronic Lyme disease sufferers exhibit fatigue, inflammation, cognitive issues such as memory problems or an inability to concentrate, and problems with speech.

Who is at risk for Lyme disease?

It’s an unfortunate truth, but anyone can be at risk for Lyme disease as long as they are bitten by a carrier and the pathogen enters their bloodstream. In the city, it seems less likely to be bitten by an infected tick, but that’s not necessarily the case.

People who spend more time in their backyards, or in the green spaces throughout their cities, often increase their risk of being bitten by a tick with Lyme disease. Children are especially vulnerable to tick bites and Lyme disease if they spend a lot of time outdoors and rolling around in grassy areas.

According to a report released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), in the year 2018, the most confirmed cases were between the ages of 60–64 (although the report doesn’t say why the older group was more susceptible).

What areas have Lyme disease?

Lyme disease has been confirmed across the globe in North America, Europe and Asia, with 38 countries having cases in the last few years. The most notable places ticks are found include the Midwest of the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe where there are heavily forested areas.

Ticks are most active during the warmer months, and due to climate change and the increased warmth of areas across the globe, the time allotted for them to feed and multiply has grown, thus raising populations. In North America, Lyme disease is more often attributed to the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, and in Europe and Asia, to Borrelia garinii.

What to do if you’re bitten by a tick

When out and about in areas that could be populated by ticks, whether in the middle of a city green space or in a forest in the middle of nowhere, it’s important to be aware that ticks are always looking for a new host. Since they are very small (adults grow to around ¼ of an inch), they are hard to detect – and most often, their bites go unnoticed.

 

Makewell - Tick bite
Image by Emphyrio on Pixabay: The most important thing when discovering a tick bite is removing the tick quickly.

 

After being outdoors in any area that may be populated with ticks, doing a tick check is recommended. If you do find that you have been bitten by a tick, remove it immediately using tweezers in a slow, steady pulling motion. If it’s possible, it’s also recommended that you keep the tick in a container and freeze it in case the onset of symptoms arise. A doctor can then test the tick. Following removal, wash both the site of the bite and your hands.

If you develop any early signs or symptoms of Lyme disease, such as the larger bullseye rash or flu-like symptoms, it’s important to contact your doctor right away. If Lyme disease is present, the earlier it is caught, the better it is for you.

Featured image by Brandon Jacoby on Unsplash