CDC Public Health Grand RoundsLyme disease is the most commonly reported illness transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas in the U.S., and the numbers are rising. Since 1992 reported incidence of the vector-borne disease more than tripled, reaching nearly 30,000 incidents in 2009.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention addressed strategies to prevent Lyme disease in its monthly Public Health Grand Rounds presentation this week, with speakers discussing vulnerable populations — notably including children — and surveillance approaches to decrease Lyme disease at a community level.

Americans can protect themselves from Lyme disease without a vaccine by:

  • avoiding tick habitats;
  • wearing protective clothing;
  • using insect repellents;
  • checking for ticks daily; and
  • bathing promptly after possible tick exposure.

“Bathing appears to be particularly effective; if done properly, it may wash up unattached ticks crawling on the skin or hair,” said Paul Mead, an epidemiologist with CDC’s National Center for Infectious Diseases. “There is no single, widely-accepted method of prevention, but CDC is working to improve and validate new prevention methods.”

While cases are spreading, Lyme disease only impacts specific U.S. regions, including the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, North central states and the West Coast. In 2011, 96 percent of cases came from just 13 states.

Wooded areas are particularly popular hangouts for ticks. In a recent breakthrough, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that spraying deer with amitraz — a chemical that doesn’t harm animals other than ticks — controlled up to 97 percent of lone star ticks that affect cattle and humans.

The Minnesota Department of Health found in a survey that only 13 percent of its 2008 Lyme disease reporters avoided the woods.

“Public health agencies need to ensure that understandable and useful info is available to the public, health care providers and legislators,” said Ruth Lynfield, an epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health.