WINCHESTER, Va. - Spring has sprung, and although we've made it out of the woods in terms of winter weather, the mild weather has only magnified other threats from Mother Nature, like the risk of contracting Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness.
"Every year, we are seeing increasing tick populations, and, because of global warming and milder winters, more people are outside for a longer period of time every year. That increases the chances of tick exposure to humans," said Dr. Mohammed Ali, Infectious Disease Consultant, Meritus Medical Center.
Doctors say increased Lyme disease exposure is a serious situation. The disease can affect the skin, joints, nervous system and, in its later stages, organs.
"Try to avoid tall bushes. Try to stay towards the center of the [paths] in wooded areas and [use] self-protection such as DEET and permethrin-based creams,” suggested Dr. Ali.
Vets add that it's important.to monitor furry friends not only for their health but the health of their human-companions. Animals cannot only be infected, but can serve as carriers, magnifying the risk for humans.
If all else fails, and a tick is found, doctors said don't panic.
"Deer ticks are very common, but not all deer ticks carry the Lyme's bacteria, Borrelia, and even the handful of ticks carrying the Borrelia, if they bite you, the chance of them transmitting [the infection] is quite low," said Dr. Ali.
If a tick has gorged on blood, chances of it having transmitted a disease are greater.
"It should be removed carefully with tweezers [and] not with a match. [None] of those old myth ways [work]. [By] just slowly extracting it out [is best], and there should be a tiny piece of tissue attached to the mouth parts. Then you know you've got them out,” said Dr. Deborah Carleton, Colony Animal Hospital.
If treated immediately, doctors say the risk of Lyme disease becoming a long and serious battle depreciates.
If you or your pet start feeling lethargic, having headaches, pains and fevers, make sure to get tested. It is possible to have Lyme disease without the notorious bullseye rash.