UCF researchers find ways to battle Lyme disease

ORLANDO, Fla. — Warmer temps are here, and that means more people will be outdoors.

It also means it’s tick season and cases involving Lyme disease have tripled in the U.S, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida have spent nearly a decade studying ticks and trying to stop Lyme disease.

For eight years, Dr. Mollie Jewett has had a lab full of ticks, trying to unravel why Lyme disease has spread so quickly.

According to the CDC, cases in Florida have tripled, from 34 in 2006 to 132 in 2016.

"Lyme disease overall is on the rise. What we don't know and what research still needs to focus on, is whether these patients acquired the disease in Florida,” Jewett said.

Ticks: What You Need to Know

And determining whether Floridians were bitten by ticks carrying the disease here or in another state is very difficult.

By far, most of the 30 cases of Lyme disease are in the northeast, which means Floridians may be getting it when they travel.

The other hard part is the ticks that carry Lyme disease are nymphs, which are only a fraction of the size of adult ticks.

"You might have a tick on you and never see it,” Jewett said. "That hamburger you had for dinner? Remember that sesame seed? Smaller than that sesame seed,” Jewett said.

On top of that, the symptoms may be written off as the flu, and screening for Lyme disease is very tedious.

The CDC believes there may be some 300,000 people who actually get Lyme disease every year, but aren't tested for it.

For Jewett, the goal is a cure and developing a test that detects Lyme disease immediately.

"Really, having a molecular test that is a yes/no answer is really going to open a lot of doors in helping people,” Jewett said.

While Lyme disease in Florida is difficult to determine, ticks in the state still carry a variety of bacteria.

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