Facts on Ticks and Lyme Disease
Ah, finally the warm summer weather is here. This means short sleeves, bare legs, and fun outdoors. This wonderful warm weather and the joy of being outdoors does come with a few precautions. You may have heard of ticks and Lyme disease but really didn’t pay much attention in the past.
Well, things have changed and now we all need to be aware of ticks and the precautions you can take to ensure that you aren’t bitten. Recent research has revealed that deer ticks and black-legged ticks are now being found in areas of the country where they didn’t exist 20 years ago. With this increase in tick populations comes an increased number of cases of Lyme disease. “Since the late 1990s, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease in the United States has tripled, and the number of counties in the northeastern and [upper-midwestern] United States that are considered high-risk for Lyme disease has increased by more than 300 percent,” research biologist Rebecca Eisen wrote on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. (From Lyme disease numbers on the rise, Washington Times.)
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to us and our pets when we’re bitten by a black-legged or deer tick. Now that you know what it is, you need to know the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease:
- 3 to 30 days after a tick bite: fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, and rash (begins at the site of the tick bite and gradually expands).
- Days and months after a tick bite: intense headaches and neck stiffness, more rashes, arthritis and swelling in knees and other large joints, facial palsy, irregular heartbeat, nerve pain, and more.
The sooner Lyme disease is caught, the better. Generally, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics and when caught early, patients make a full recovery. Depending on the form of Lyme disease, some people may require additional treatment. In more rare cases, those affected can develop Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, but studies show that people with this condition will make a full recovery. The vital information here is that you know what the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are and that you do act quickly at the first signs of Lyme disease.
How Can I Protect Myself and Family from Ticks and Lyme Disease?
Now of course we don’t want to scare you from going outside! Just the opposite – we want you outdoors enjoying your parks, going for bike rides, having a family picnic, playing soccer, and just enjoying the summer months. With a few small precautions, you can help protect your family from being bitten by ticks and from Lyme disease:
- Try to stay out of high grassy and wooded areas. When in these areas, walk down the center of the trail.
- Use repellent that is labelled to prevent ticks. DEET is a recommended product for preventing tick bites, but if you don’t want to use DEET, there are other natural remedies available. The CDC does recommend a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535.
- Treat your clothing with products that contain permethrin. This includes your boots, socks, pants, and tents.
- If you know you’ve been in a high-tick area, bathe or shower as soon as you come indoors.
- Do a full body scan to look for ticks, remember, you likely won’t feel a tick bite you. Typically, ticks are found under your arms, around or in your ears, in the belly button, in your hair, near or around your waist or between your legs.
- Take a good look at any gear you had with you. For example, shake out your sleeping bags, picnic blankets and basket, tent, and specific outdoor clothing.
- Wash your clothes in hot water and then put these clothes in a high heat dyer for 10 minutes. Clothes that cannot be washed with hot water should be in the dyer on low heat for 90 minutes or high heat for 60 minutes.
- Do not panic.
- Use either a pair of tweezers or a commercial tick removal device to remove the tick. Grasp the tick as close to your body as possible and then pull upward with a steady movement. Do not twist or rapidly pull the tweezers, this can cause the mouth of the tick to be separated from the tick body.
- Clean the bitten area and your hands thoroughly.
- To get rid of the tick you can submerge it in alcohol, place it in a sealed container, wrap it in tape or flush it down the toilet. Do not squish or crush the tick with your fingers.