The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new study showing that disease cases from infected mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas have tripled in the U.S. More than 640,000 cases were reported from 2004 to 2016, and the CDC estimates that unreported cases were 10 times greater than that.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, but what exactly is this disease, and how can you protect yourself and loved ones from getting it?

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick. Those who spend a lot of time outside have a higher risk of infection. Relatedly, areas with warmer weather year-round pose a greater risk because ticks require a humid environment to survive.

What Are the Symptoms?

When bitten by an infected tick, the symptoms are flu-like, with a large circular rash. Symptoms can begin three days following a bite, but in some cases, they may not appear for months or even years after a bite. Extreme symptoms can include chest pain, numbness, vision changes, heart palpitations, facial paralysis, arthritis, headaches, vertigo, extreme fatigue and mental confusion.

How Long Do Symptoms Last?

In most cases, with the treatment of antibiotics, symptoms last no longer than four weeks. But approximately 15 percent of people treated develop Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, also known as chronic Lyme Disease, and suffer from symptoms for months or even years. These can include fatigue, pain and aching, swollen knees and joints, challenges speaking, decreased short-term memory, and restless sleep. There is currently no diagnostic test to determine whether the tick-borne bacteria are eliminated after the initial treatment. It is believed that if not caught early, the bacteria dissipate further into the body where antibiotics have trouble reaching. Chronic Lyme disease is often difficult to treat because manifestations vary considerably as genetic and individual health factors come into play.

How Can I Prevent Lyme Disease?

There are precautions you can take to avoid getting Lyme disease.

  • Wear socks, pants and long sleeves when out in the woods or in an area with lots of trees and fallen leaves. Wear light-colored clothing if possible so it’s easier to spot a tick.
  • Use tick repellant on clothing, shoes, outdoor gear, and on exposed skin.
  • Carefully look for ticks on your skin – they are the size of a sesame seed at their largest.
  • Shower within two hours of coming inside, if possible.
  • To ensure you don’t have any pests lingering on your clothes, put clothes in a plastic bag to contain ticks or in a hot dryer to kill them.

If you do find an attached tick, follow these steps to properly remove it.

  • Remove a tick as soon as you see it. Transmission of Lyme disease can happen in a matter of minutes.
  • Use only tweezers or a tick removal tool. Grasp the tick at the place of attachment, as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull the tick straight out, without twisting.
  • Wash your hands, and disinfect the tweezers and the bite site. Save the tick in a small container or plastic bag to send to a lab for testing.

For statistics on the risk of Lyme disease in Florida, click here for 10 things Floridians need to know now about Lyme disease.