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Warmer than expected winters have allowed the population of ticks to flourish and unfortunately, that means the risk of contracting Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses is also on the rise.

Particularly in the Northeast, Midwest and northern Pacific Coast, a warming climate is allowing the parasitic mites to survive for the better part of the year, making them not only more capable of multiplying but also more likely to spread disease.

Many people are familiar with Lyme disease, the illness spread by ticks and marked by fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle ache, joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and rashes. However, another tick-related threat in our local communities is Babesiosis – a malaria-like infection of the red blood cells.

Symptoms of Babesiosis are similar to those of Lyme disease, often starting with a high fever and chills. As the infection progresses, patients may develop fatigue, headache, drenching sweats, muscle aches, chest pain, hip pain and shortness of breath.

"Babesiosis is known as the malaria of the northeast," says Dr. Suraj Saggar, Chief of Infectious Disease at Holy Name. "We see several cases in the hospital every summer, but are now expecting that to rise this year because of the impact of climate change on local tick populations."

Steps to prevent tick-borne illnesses include using tick-specific insect repellent, avoiding wooded areas with high brush or accumulated leaves, and treating clothing and outdoor gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin.

When you come inside after spending time outdoors in a potentially tick-infested area, remember to check yourself, your clothes and your pets. If you find a tick on your body, use a clean pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with the tweezers with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick off the skin, as this may cause pieces of the tick to break off and remain within the skin. Wash clothing in hot water and tumble dry on high heat for at least 10 minutes.

"If you think you have been bitten by a tick, it's important to see a physician at the onset of any symptoms," suggests Dr. Saggar. "If left untreated, infection can cause serious medical issues, but thankfully most cases can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics."