As people across the northeastern U.S. begin venturing back into the outdoors with the arrival of spring, they will make 1 billion fewer trips than they otherwise would have if Lyme disease didn’t exist, a new Yale study concludes.

With its abdomen engorged with a host blood meal, this image depicts a lateral, or side view of a female blacklegged, or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis/CDC

In an analysis published in the journal Environmental and Resource Economics, researchers found that perceived risks of contracting Lyme disease on average cause a person in the Northeast to forego eight 73-minute outdoor trips per year, costing them about nine hours of outdoor time per year. Although the cost of individual lost trips is small — about $2.75 to $5 — the total cost roughly $2.8 billion to $5 billion annually due to the large number of people in the region.

“Lyme disease has been around for a few decades but it still has a big cost to society,” said Eli Fenichel, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and senior author of the paper. “But the cost is not what people spend on doctors, or medicine, or even bug spray. These are costs that everybody incurs because we’re all choosing second-choice activities to avoid getting Lyme disease.”

“It’s a lot of people making very small changes, but in such a densely populated region that has major impacts.”

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevalent across the northeastern U.S. and the Great Lakes region, the disease causes fever, headaches, fatigue, and skin rash. It can be prevented by use of repellents and removing ticks, as well as costly steps to remove tick habitat.

Or, as the researchers illustrate, individuals can simply find alternative activities to avoid tick habitat altogether.

To evaluate how the risk of Lyme disease impacts human behavior….Read more at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies