TAMPA (FOX 13) - The number of illnesses caused by infected mosquitoes, ticks or fleas tripled from 2004 through 2016, with the largest surge fueled by the Zika crisis, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Tuesday.
While Zika was responsible for the most glaring spike, the numbers also showed a steady increase in the cases of tick-borne Lyme disease.
"It needs to be taken very seriously. Ticks are everywhere now," said Aeriel Callahan, who lives in Seminol and knows first-hand how dangerous Lyme disease is.
Callahan, 20, believes she came down with Lyme while she was on vacation in North Carolina eight years ago. The infection began with flu-like symptoms.
"It started with just a whole slew of different symptoms," Aeriel said, adding that her health quickly deteriorated. "I went from being a track star to all of a sudden I couldn't walk... I started to have trouble speaking and the doctors just told us, 'this must be the flu.'"
But she wasn't getting better.
Finally, in 2016, Aeriel underwent a series of tests and she was diagnosed with Lyme. While the disease often presents itself as a "bullseye" rash, that's not always the case.
"I didn't have the bullseye rash, so I wouldn't have known that all of these symptoms were Lyme," Aeriel said. "Had somebody spoke up and said, 'hey, this could be Lyme,' it could have changed my life."
FOX 13's Dr. Joette Giovinco said the CDC's statistics about Lyme are alarming and the disease might be more prevalent than previously thought.
"They think that there may be about 300,000 cases," she said. "The concern, of course, is that because Lyme disease is really not that readily diagnosable, that some people may have it and just not know it."
In the CDC's recent report, the agency said 80 percent of the vector control organizations designated to control these infections are not equipped to do so.
Experts recommend people always keep their skin covered and use insect repellent whenever they're outside. Doctors say Lyme is curable, but patients sometimes continue to experience symptoms that need to be treated.
The CDC offered the following tips to protect yourself from mosquito, tick, and flea bites:
- Use an EPA registered insect repellent.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Treat items, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with permethrin or use permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
- Take steps to control ticks and fleas on pets.
- Find and remove ticks daily from family and pets.
- Take steps to control mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas inside and outside your home.