How Climate Change Affects Lyme Disease

The Lyme Disease epidemic is larger than AIDS, West Nile Virus, and Avian Flu combined.1 Despite being the largest growing vector-borne infectious disease in the United States,2 receiving a diagnosis for Lyme is incredibly difficult. Widely divergent views of the condition exist, making treatment complex and controversial. At this point in time, a vaccination or cure for the condition doesn’t exist. But, the best treatment for the Lyme Disease epidemic might not be a new pill or injection, but fighting climate change and preserving our country’s ecosystem.

The global temperature is rising. Nine out of 10 of the warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.3 Blacklegged ticks (Deer ticks) which transmit Lyme Disease thrive at higher temperatures above 45°F and humidity of 85% or higher.4 The warming temperatures associated with climate change are projected to increase the number of suitable tick habitats. Shorter winters could also extend the period when ticks are active each year, increasing the chance of human exposure.

Ticks are not the original carrier of the Lyme Disease bacterium, Borrelia Burgdorferi. Ticks contact this bacterium from the host animals they feed upon, primarily mice or chipmunks.5 Changes in the host population also affect the tick population. The host populations are also affected by climate change and other ecosystem disturbances. As the diversity of animal species increase, the risk of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne diseases reduces.

As our human population has rapidly increased the large predator population has decreased. Fewer large predators have caused an abundance of deer, a host population for ticks.6 This abundance of deer has caused an ecosystem disturbance where rodent hunters are less likely to thrive.7 With fewer rodent hunters the Lyme Disease bacterium carrying rodent population has increased.8 So, what could a possible solution to this be? Allow large predator populations, such as cougars or wolves, to return.9

This solution isn’t simple, and predators aren’t the only important factor. Having strong overall diversity is important. Take the opossum, for example. Opossums groom obsessively and have been likened to a tick death trap. A higher opossum population could also lead to fewer ticks.

Until something is done to the tick population, or their ability to transmit disease, Lyme Disease will continue to be an epidemic. Chronic Lyme Disease is confusing, scary, and debilitating. A community of like-minded healthcare peers is the best resource for emotional support and information during this time. Find your community of healthcare peers with Peer Health. Join us.



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