Camping & Lyme Disease: 90’s and Today

Camping & Lyme Disease: 90’s and Today

By Brittany Whited

A sunny spring weekend is upon us and it’s time to get outside! I’ll be spending my weekend around a campfire in the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains. Where are you going?

I have always loved camping trips. Well, maybe not always– there were a few teenage years where being crammed into a vehicle with my family on our way to a place without cell phone service was arguably the worst thing to happen to anyone ever.

A young girl sits on a rock in front of a lake with a fishing pole.

Me, fishing in Wyoming summer of 1996

But all those times packing up our wood-paneled minivan to see the great outdoors definitely gave me a love and appreciation for the outdoors- I now gleefully plan camping voyages every opportune weekend. After each trip I feel accomplished (albeit a bit sore) from my long hikes, triumphant from starting a campfire in the rain, and restored from filling my lungs with the quiet mountain air.

Two women point in different directions while looking at a map.

Me and a classmate at the foggy summit of Old Rag, Shenandoah National park, 2014.

In all the years I’ve spent in the woods of New England, Wisconsin, and other parts of the US, I never once had a deer tick bite me until last summer. Fortunately, I saw the little bugger within hours of arriving at the campsite and removed it. Deer ticks can carry Lyme disease, a sometimes debilitating illness for which there is no vaccine. While I didn’t get Lyme (quickly removing ticks reduce the risk of infection), the number of cases and the geographic distribution of Lyme is increasing each year (see map). In fact, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease each year in the US has doubled since 1991 (see our Climate Change Indicators in the US).

Data Source: CDC,

Data Source: CDC,

So… what’s going on?

There are many factors at play in the number and distribution of cases of Lyme. Temperature, precipitation, and humidity are factors that influence tick survival and the seasonal timing of tick activity. Across the entire country, these climate-related factors often play a significant role in determining the occurrence of ticks and Lyme disease in the US.

Climate-related factors—temperature, precipitation, and humidity—are all influenced by climate change, and climate change is likely responsible for at least some of the observed change in Lyme disease cases. A scientific assessment detailing the impacts of climate change on health in the US (released on April 4th) states that increasing temperatures and changes in seasonal patterns from climate change will result in both earlier seasonal tick activity and an expansion in tick habitat range. Earlier tick activity and a greater habitat range will increase the risk of human exposure to ticks, and thus, Lyme disease.

In addition to Lyme disease, climate change can affect our health in many other ways. On my camping trips in the future I will need to be more aware of harmful algae blooms while I fish and canoe, extreme heat during my long treks, and distant wildfires affecting the quality of the quiet mountain air.

It is important to remember that the impacts of climate change are not limited to our natural environment – in fact, we interact with our environment every day- whether it’s at the top of a mountain, on a city sidewalk, or in a school, and each interaction influences our health. Learning about how climate change impacts all of these environments can help us be better prepared to protect our health.

Learn more about how climate change affects health here.

Learn how to protect yourself from tick bites and Lyme disease here.

About the Author: Brittany Whited is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) participant hosted by the Climate Science and Impacts Branch in the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. She recently completed her Master’s degree in Public Health from George Washington University and is wicked excited to spend less time studying and more time outside.

Camping & Lyme Disease: 90’s and Today
Source: EPA Water Science news

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