For decades now, researchers have been gathering as much information on Lyme disease as possible in attempts to gain more knowledge on causes, potential cures, as well as the environments where ticks capable of spreading Lyme disease tend to thrive. A new study conducted by BioMed Central (BMC) Public Health in the United Kingdom sheds light on the demographics of Lyme disease patients, including who is most likely to contract the disease.

The study examined data on 2,361 hospital patients collected between 1998 and 2015. In a surprising finding, 60.1% of patients were women or girls. Additionally, those between age 6-10 and 61-65 were most commonly diagnosed with Lyme disease.

So why is it that women are more likely to be diagnosed with Lyme disease than men? According to John Tulloch, a member of the Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections at the University of Liverpool, the significant difference in Lyme cases “could be related to differences in health seeking behaviour between women and men, and an increased exposure to tick habitats due to leisure activities in children and older people, as opposed to occupational exposure in younger adults. Researchers hypothesize that lifestyle differences may explain why women have more documented cases of the disease – for example, women may be more likely to own a dog, making them more likely to frequent areas with ticks. Additionally, those living in the countryside are more susceptible to the disease.

The study also showed that cases of Lyme disease in the United Kingdom have been increasing every year the past 17 years, with Lyme rates peaking in August. Public awareness campaigns are believed to be largely responsible for increases in reported cases.

No matter what your sex or age it is important to practise tick safety when venturing into tick habitats. Steps to prevent tick bites include: staying away from tall bushes or grass and stick to the middle of a trail, using bug repellents (like DEET) or biologicals, wearing long light-coloured pants so you can see ticks, don’t wear open toed shoes, and look carefully for ticks when you get back inside. If you feel you have been experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, do not hesitate to seek a professional diagnosis.