Spring and summer are the prime seasons to find ticks in your yard, on your pets, or even on your skin. Lyme disease may be the very first thing we think of when ticks are mentioned, and justifiably so. Contracted from a poppy-seed sized insect painlessly biting and attaching itself to the skin to feed on its host for several days, ticks with Lyme disease spread the illness rapidly through one’s bloodstream. More disturbing, the symptoms of Lyme disease may overlap with many other illnesses, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. Luckily, however, learning more about the disease and its host greatly reduce the chances of contraction and improves the diagnosis.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lyme disease is produced by the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacterium and can be contracted from the bite of a blacklegged tick. Once the disease is contracted, many symptoms, such as fatigue, skin rash, and fever can show. In undiagnosed cases, the disease has managed to reach the heart, nervous system, and joints. Extreme cases have even caused death. Lyme disease affects roughly one in 300,000 Americans each year, which makes the odds of contracting the disease rather slim. However, if it is to be properly prevented, the disease must be understood and not simply feared.
7 things you should know about Lyme disease:
1. Not all ticks spread the disease.
A bite from a blacklegged tick, otherwise called a “deer tick,” is the only known host for spreading Lyme disease. Although deer ticks have been spotted in every state of the US—not to mention every continent but Antarctica—they take up primary residence in the northeastern and upper Midwest portions of the country. This is good news if you live in the south, but the truth is, there are other types of ticks who carry other types of diseases, so it’s best to remain cautious of ticks wherever you live.
A blacklegged tick is typically the size of a sesame seed or smaller. Juvenile blacklegged ticks, called “nymphs” can be so small they are difficult to see and many cannot even feel their bite. This is why it is so important to check yourself for ticks after spending any amount of time in heavily wooded or grassy areas. Ticks like humid, damp sections of land and love to find an active host, like dogs or deer, to ride around on until they can hop onto something else. This could be especially bad news for people who love to feed the deer roaming through their yard. Deer may be a beautiful animal, but to the Blacklegged tick, they are also the most beloved creatures to latch onto in order to spread Lyme disease.
2. Know how to check yourself for ticks.
Checking yourself and loved ones for ticks is the essentially the first step in Lyme disease prevention. Because they are so small even at full growth, ticks are not easily seen or felt when they attach to your body. But once they do, the ticks dig in head first to fill up on your blood and ensure that they’re rather difficult to detach.
You can check for ticks in four easy, but through steps:
- Stand in front of a mirror and begin with the waist. Pull up your shirt and check the entire belt line by running your fingers across while looking at each section of the waist.
- Next check between your legs and feet, looking closely in all creases and bends for any dark spots or raised areas of skin.
- Move up to the bellybutton. No matter if you are an “outie” or an “innie,” a tick could still attach itself.
- Check your underarms, in and around each ear, and be sure to run your hands over your scalp and through anybody hair; use slow motions to make sure you do not pass over a tick.
This run-through should become routine for you and your family every spring and summer. A quick check can keep everyone healthy and free from Lyme disease.
3. Know how to remove a tick.
If by chance you do find a tick on your body, don’t panic and don’t hesitate. Removing the tick as quickly as possible is important because the longer the tick is attached to the body, the better the chance of the tick spreading Lyme disease. To remove the tiny insect, there are a number of domestic methods. Covering the tick with nail polish remover, applying extreme heat to the tick, and submerging the in liquid soap or oil may work for some, but in reality, there is one consistently successful method to remove a tick.
The CDC suggests using a fine-tipped tool, such as a pair of tweezers, to pinch the tick’s body as close to its head as possible. Once you have grasped the tick, refrain from moving side to side or pulling at an angle, as this will cause the body to break away from the head and mouth. Instead, pull straight up in one motion to remove the entire insect. Once the tick is out, clean the bitten area with rubbing alcohol or soap. Dispose of the tick by wrapping it in tissue paper and flushing it down a toilet. It’s really that easy!
4. Find a tick repellent that works for you.
As probably expected, there are plenty of natural and over-the-counter tick repellents, all claiming they work the best. Essential oils like citronella and lemon eucalyptus or mixing white vinegar and lemon for a homemade concoction are said to repel ticks. Both DEET (the most common ingredient in insect repellents) and Permethrin (a medication and insecticide) lead the market and can be purchased at any Home Depot or Lowe’s. These sprays last for hours and can repel or kill ticks. There are also products available with lighter mixtures of DEET or Permethrin, if you’re wary against a full dose or may be concerned with insecticide exposure to children (note: DEET and Permethrin are safe for children 2 months and older, given that guidelines are followed).
5. Know the symptoms of Lyme disease.
It’s never a bad idea to know what to look for just in case Lyme disease is contracted. A quick visit to the Mayo clinic’s website (www.mayclinic.org) will show that the early stages can be anything from a mild rash, to irritated stomach and fever. This can take place three to thirty days after a tick bite. And in many patients, the rash made a bulls-eye pattern on the skin. From these symptoms, the disease can begin to cause migraine headaches, extreme pain in the joints, and neurological issues. And any of these things can happen months, even years after the initial tick bite occurs.
6. There is a treatment for Lyme disease.
Unfortunately, a one-size-fits-all treatment doesn’t exist. For most, however, Lyme disease patients start with a course of antibiotics that can last for up to a month but usually knocks out the disease. Whether symptoms continue or not, a trip back to the doctor is necessary. Even though the rash, fever or joint pain has dissipated, the disease could still be operating. It is extremely important that all traces are cleared from the body, and a check-up appointment with a physician can help determine if you are disease-free. If the symptoms continue even after the antibiotics, your doctor will run a series of tests to help determine another, and hopefully more effective course of action for you.
7. Know what types of ticks live near you.
Just because most Lyme diseases cases are found in the northeast and upper Midwest doesn’t mean the rest of us are in the clear. As stated earlier, Blacklegged ticks have been identified in every state, in addition to the other disease-carrying ticks out there. The chances of catching Lyme disease may be slim in the big picture, but contracting the disease is rather easy, especially in the spring and summer, where wooded and wet areas home numerous types of ticks. Moreover, ticks can reside anywhere during any season. Take the time to visit the CDC website to learn more about Lyme disease statistics in your state so that you can take the proper precautions.
These 7 things will greatly increase your understanding and reduce your chances of contracting Lyme disease while keeping you and your family tick-free. The most important tip to remember, despite your natural reaction, is to not panic. While it’s easy to speculate, obsess, and fear Lyme disease, the best advice is to stay away folklore of Lyme disease and removing ticks, which typically exacerbates the situation. Taking the time to know how to prevent, check, and remove ticks is all you need. Lyme disease should not keep you or anyone from enjoying the outdoors no matter where you live. Stay safe this summer and be sure to check yourself for ticks every day.