You may think your risk of getting Lyme disease ends when the weather starts to cool, but by Fall, adult ticks have had more time to become infected with disease-causing bacteria.
If you’re a dog or outdoor cat owner, you know the dangers of ticks, most notably Lyme disease. Ticks can endanger people as well as animals, so it’s important to know how to avoid them and remove them.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is the fastest spreading tick-borne disease in the U.S., with an estimated 300,000 new cases each year.
Lyme disease is caused by a spirochetal infection transmitted by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. Infected people often test negative for Lyme disease.
If left untreated, infection can cause severe neurological, cardiac and arthritic problems. Early detection and treatment is vital.
Lyme disease is spreading throughout the United States. Although it is most prevalent on the east coast and the upper Midwest, cases of Lyme disease have been reported in all 50 states. Incidents of Lyme disease increase in warm weather, when people and pets spend more time outdoors, and you should take precautions against the disease.
Lyme disease is spread by the deer tick and black-legged tick, which attaches itself to field mice and deer. Deer ticks are tiny and difficult to see. They are much smaller than the common dog tick or wood tick. They can be as small as a poppy seed or the head of a pin. Adult deer ticks are only as large as a grape seed. Because of the tick’s tiny size, its bite usually is painless. Many people who develop Lyme disease cannot recall having been bitten.
The tick is found around branches and in wooded and grassy areas. Like all ticks, it attaches itself to any warm-blooded animal with which it comes into direct contact, including humans. Deer ticks are active
any time the temperature is above about 45° F. However, most cases of infection happen between May and late August, when ticks are most active and people spend more time outdoors. Recent studies indicate that the tick must remain embedded in human skin for about 36 to 48 hours to transmit the disease. More information on Lyme disease may be available from your local or state health department, the American Lyme Disease Foundation (aldf.com), or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (cdc.gov/features/lymedisease/).
People can decrease their risk of acquiring Lyme and other tick-borne diseases when spending time outdoors by taking these steps:
- taking a bath or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors;
- conducting a tick check on themselves, their children and very importantly, their dogs, upon return from potentially tick-infested areas and promptly removing any ticks. If you miss a tick on your body remember it likes to head north or south after hair it can hide in;
- use a lint roller right after being in the woods or on a brush walk for humans and pets
- wearing light-colored clothing so that ticks are easier to see and remove;
- tucking pant legs into socks or boots; tucking shirts into pants;
- wearing long-sleeved shirts buttoned to the wrist;
- and applying tick repellant to exposed areas of the body and to clothing that may come into contact with grass or brush.
Signs of Infection
The first signal of infection may appear a few days
or a few weeks after a tick bite. In 80 to 90 percent of all cases of Lyme disease, a rash starts as a small red area at the site of the bite. It may spread up to 7 inches across. In fair-skinned people, the center may be a lighter color with the outer edges red and raised. This sometimes gives the rash a bull’s-eye appearance. In some individuals, the rash may appear to be solid red. In dark-skinned people, the area may look black and blue, like a bruise. The rash may or may not be warm to the touch and usually is not itchy or painful. If a rash does appear, it will do so in about 1 to 2 weeks and may last for about 3 to 5 weeks. Some people with Lyme disease never develop a rash.
Other signals of Lyme disease include fever, headache, weakness, and joint and muscle pain. These signals are similar to signals of flu and can develop slowly. They might not occur at the same time as the rash.
Lyme disease can get worse if it is not treated. Signals can include severe fatigue; fever; a stiff, aching neck; tingling or numbness in the fingers and toes; and facial paralysis. In its advanced stages Lyme disease may cause painful arthritis; numbness in the arms, hands or legs; severe headaches; long- or short-term memory loss; confusion; dizziness; and problems in seeing or hearing. Some of these signals could indicate problems with the brain or nervous system. Lyme disease may also cause heart problems such as an irregular or rapid heartbeat.
When to Seek Medical Care
If rash or flu-like signals develop, the person should seek medical care immediately. A health care provider usually will prescribe antibiotics to treat Lyme disease. Antibiotics work quickly and effectively if taken as soon as possible. Most people who get treated early make a full recovery. If you suspect Lyme disease, do not delay seeking treatment. Treatment time is longer and less effective when the person has been infected for a long period of time.
To prevent tick-borne illnesses, always check for ticks immediately after outdoor activities. Most experts believe that the longer the tick stays attached to the skin, the greater the chances are of infection. Therefore, check for ticks at least once daily after having been outdoors. Quickly remove any ticks that you find before they become swollen with blood.
Wash all clothing. Be sure to check pets because they can carry ticks into the house, where they can then attach themselves to people or other pets. Pets also can develop signals of tick-borne diseases.
How to remove a tick
If you find a tick embedded in a person’s skin, it must be removed. It’s important not to leave any mouthparts in your body. And try not to squeeze your blood back into your body as it may have become infected. Remove a tick by pulling slowly, steadily and firmly with fine-tipped tweezers OR if it’s not in too deep, by scraping it away with a flat surface like a credit card. With a gloved hand, grasp the tick with fine-tipped and pointed tweezer that has a smooth inside surface. Get as close to the skin as possible. Pull slowly, steadily and firmly with no twisting or extra squeezing.■ Do not try to burn off the tick.
■ Do not apply petroleum jelly or nail polish to the tick.
Put the tick in a container or jar with rubbing alcohol to kill it. Clean the bite area with soap and water and an antiseptic. Apply an antibiotic ointment if it is available and the person has no known allergies or sensitivities to the medication. Encourage the person to seek medical advice because of the risk of contracting a tick-borne disease. If you cannot remove the tick, have the person seek advanced medical care.