Parents, brace yourselves: Experts say 2017 will bring an abnormally high risk of tick-bourne Lyme disease.

Lyme disease bug spray
Credit: Bignai/Shutterstock

I live in New Jersey, in a wooded area where nary one parent doesn't obsessively worry about the tick-borne illness Lyme disease. In fact, we are already starting to find ticks on dogs and kids, and it's a scary prospect that the season hasn't even geared up yet. Yes, along with the long-anticipated arrival of somewhat warmer weather comes renewed fears about another brutal Lyme disease season.

According to NPR, this year's Lyme risk in the Northeast is going to be particularly acute, because of, believe it or not, a mouse surge in that region. In fact, ecologist couple Felicia Keesing and her husband Rick Ostfeld of New York have successfully predicted Lyme cases based on the population of mice for more than 20 years. Because it turns out the rodents transmit the disease to 95 percent of the ticks that feed on them.

Want to hear something beyond gross? I thought so: "An individual mouse might have 50, 60, even 100 ticks covering its ears and face," Ostfeld told NPR. That means that one mouse alone could bear 100 Lyme-infected ticks. Shiver.

It's important to point out that Lyme disease, which can cause long-lasting nervous system and joint damage as well as heart problems, according to the CDC, isn't confined solely to the Northeast anymore. As NPR reports, Lyme has weaseled its way into 260 countries! In the U.S., it's most prevalent from Maine down the East coast to southern Virginia, and in Midwestern states like Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Small regions of the West coast are also at risk. The CDC estimates there may be as many as 300,000 cases of Lyme in this country per year.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? The best way to prevent infection is to perform daily tick checks. The Mayo Clinic also recommends:

  • Covering up with clothing as much as possible while outdoors in grassy or wooded areas.
  • Using insect repellent with a 20 percent or higher concentration of DEET.
  • Tick-proofing your yard. We have ours treated by a gardening company each year.
  • Checking everyone in the house for ticks (including pets)!
  • Removing ticks as soon as possible.
  • See a doctor right away if you notice any Lyme symptoms, which include a bulls-eye rash and flu-like symptoms.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.