Worth the Worry? Ticks and Lyme Disease in Florida
January 31, 2024
Around 40 cases of Lyme disease are reported each year here in Florida, and though it may seem like a relatively small number, it’s still a major concern for residents of the Sunshine State.
This tick-borne illness is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium and is transmitted to humans through bites, often from black-legged or deer ticks.
The key for Florida residents and visitors is understanding tick-borne diseases in the state. In this guide, we’re going to explore all you need to know about Lyme disease so you can enjoy the outdoors safely.
Lyme disease in Florida is transmitted through Ixodes ticks, although these are not as common as other tick species in the region.
The percentage of ticks carrying Lyme disease in Florida varies and is an area of active research.
Awareness and prevention measures are crucial for minimizing the risk of tick bites and Lyme disease transmission.
Tick-Borne Diseases in Florida
While general tick-borne diseases are a growing concern in Florida, Lyme disease is a particular focus for healthcare professionals.
Using data to track tick-related infections to provide a public health response is the main goal.
So, just how common is Lyme disease?
Prevalence of Lyme Disease
The main culprit for Lyme disease in the Northern United States is the deer tick. However, not all deer ticks carry Lyme disease.
Unfortunately, we don’t have an exact number, as the Florida Department of Health reports that the percentage of ticks carrying Lyme disease varies by county and year.
What we do know, however, is that they are less prominent in Florida than in northeast states.
Prevalence Rates: Data indicates that a relatively small proportion of ticks in Florida carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi. Specific rates are not constant and can fluctuate due to environmental factors and migration patterns of hosts like deer.
County Data: Surveillance efforts are conducted county-by-county to identify ticks and test for Lyme disease. Rates of Lyme-carrying ticks are typically higher in areas with greater deer populations, although comprehensive county-level data may not be available for all regions in Florida.
Common Tick Species in Florida
Florida is home to several tick species, but three are particularly noteworthy:
Also known as the deer tick, this species is known for transmitting Lyme disease. They are commonly found in wooded areas, and during the nymph stage, they are more likely to transmit infections to humans due to their small size.
American Dog Tick
These ticks primarily feed on dogs and are larger than the black-legged ticks. While they’re often found in less densely forested areas, they can also adapt to urban environments.
Lone Star Tick
Easily identifiable by the single white spot on the female's back, these ticks inhabit woodland edges, meadows, and even some urban areas. They can transmit diseases, such as Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STAR), but are not known carriers of Lyme disease.
Tips for Staying Tick-Free
The best way to keep yourself safe from Lyme disease is by taking personal protection measures when spending time in areas where ticks are present.
Keeping Yourself Safe
You can decrease the likelihood of a tick bite by wearing clothing that covers the skin as much as possible.
When in the woods, long sleeves and pants are ideal. You can also treat your clothes with permethrin insecticide as an added barrier.
For any exposed skin, we recommend repellents with DEET.
After outdoor activities, make sure to shower as soon as possible to wash away unattached ticks and conduct a full-body tick check using a mirror.
If you find a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin's surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an excellent, in-depth guide for removing ticks.
At-Home Prevention Tips
Managing your living environment is another great way to prevent ticks. Here are a few ideas you can implement today:
Lawn Care: Keep your grass short and bushes trimmed.
Barriers: Place wood chips or gravel between the yard and the woods.
Pets: Use vet-recommended tick treatments on your pets and perform daily checks.
Call a Pest Control Professional
When in doubt, call a pest control professional!
While DIY pest control can be tempting, sometimes the best and most effective route is to call a professional to come help.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the chances of a tick in Florida carrying Lyme disease?
The chances of an infected tick in Florida carrying Lyme disease are generally lower compared to the Northeastern United States. Studies indicate that only a small percentage of ticks in Florida carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.
Can you actually get Lyme disease from ticks found in Florida?
Yes. While the incidence rate is significantly lower than in more endemic regions of the country, you can still contract Lyme disease from ticks in Florida.
What's the likelihood of a dog picking up a Lyme disease-carrying tick in Florida?
Dogs can pick up Lyme disease-carrying ticks in Florida, but it is less common than in states with higher Lyme disease tick populations. With that said, pet owners should still take preventative measures year-round.
Are there certain areas in Florida where Lyme disease ticks are more common?
Ticks that can carry Lyme disease are often found in Florida’s wooded and grassy regions, which is why we recommend exercising caution in these environments.
How can you protect yourself from tick bites when hanging out in Florida?
The best way to protect against tick bites in Florida is by using insect repellents, wearing long sleeves and pants, and performing regular tick checks after outdoor activities.
Which states are known for having the highest rate of Lyme disease in ticks?
The highest Lyme disease rates in ticks are found in the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and North-Central states, particularly in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania.