What are your chances of getting Lyme disease this year? On average, I’ve been pulling two ticks a day off myself, just from walking through the woods and fields near my home in Virginia. That’s not counting the time I stumbled into a nymph nest under a cedar tree last week. I was picking those baby ticks off for a good 20 minutes. That amount of exposure sounds bad, but at the end of the day, your chances have a lot more to do with your geography than the amount of time you spend outside. Recent Lyme cases have been at their worst in the northeast, western Oregon, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Reported cases of Lyme disease continue to rise with more than 280,000 Americans being diagnosed since 2002, including 30,000 diagnoses just last year. Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How is it that ticks make you ill? There are several diseases that humans can contract from a tick bite, but the most common and dreaded is Lyme disease. This illness is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic “Bull’s Eye” skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, a Lyme disease infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Even with treatment, this is an illness that can have lifelong debilitating effects such as arthritis, fatigue, and even neurological deficits.

The threat applies to dogs and other pets, as well. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) predicts a worse than normal tick and Lyme disease season.

The CAPC reports that 6.56 percent of dogs tested thus far this year have been positive for Lyme disease. Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs often include lameness due to inflammation of the joints, lack of appetite, and depression.

As we progress further into spring, cut your risks by generously applying DEET or permethrin repellents to your boots and pants; doing a thorough tick check each day; and keeping tick repellent collars on your dogs and cats. If you’re not keen on using the chemicals, look for natural insect repellent products with pennyroyal oil, lavender oil, and/or citronella.

Be careful out there, and don’t hesitate to visit your doctor if you feel like you might have contracted Lyme disease.