Ticks–they’re ready to jump off of high grasses and tall shrubs and onto their next prey at any moment. If you hike often, live in a shady moist area, or tend to a garden or lawn, you may be at higher risk for tick bites and Lyme disease. But what exactly are these little critters? And how much of a threat can they really pose? Read along as we break down ticks and Lyme disease, and learn why it’s best not to underestimate the creepy crawlers!
Careful, there may be ticks!
There are over 800 species of ticks found throughout the world, but in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and North-Central states, only one type is known to transmit Lyme disease: The black-legged tick. Also commonly known as a deer tick, baby ticks (Larvae and nymphs) feed on lizards and small mammals while adult ticks (3 to 5mm long) prefer dogs and deer.
As its name suggests, this species’ identifying characteristic is its black legs and brown body. It’s important to be able to distinguish between this species and others because Black-legged ticks are the vector for the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. If you or a loved one happens to get a tick bite, be sure to take note of the size, shape, and color of the tick.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi (baw·reh·lee·uh brg·dor·feh·ree).This spiral shaped bacterium is most commonly spread by a tick bite. The disease takes its name from Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in the U.S. in 1975. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a specific skin rash called erythema migrans (eh·ruh·thee·muh mi· gruhnz)– typically a circular red area that sometimes clears in the middle, forming a bull’s-eye pattern. It can spread up to 12 inches across and may be warm to the touch.
The best way to remove a tick is with fine tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull with firm, gentle pressure – do not jerk or twist. It is important to avoid crushing or squeezing the tick while you are removing it. Do NOT use a match, nail polish, or Vaseline to try and smother the tick – these methods may cause the tick to actually inject its body fluids into the skin raising the possibility of disease transmission.
After removing the tick, wash your hands and the area of the bite with soap and water. Be sure to kill the tick, as it may still be alive even after removal (you can tell if the head is still on). To kill a tick, enclose it in a container of bleach or rubbing alcohol. Keep the tick in case you or a loved one develops symptoms.
To avoid ticks and Lyme:
There are no licensed vaccines available in the U.S. to aid in the prevention of Lyme disease in people. Be sure to take precautionary measures whenever engaging in activity that can expose you or a loved one to ticks and Lyme disease.
Here are a few preventive measures that can be taken:
- Avoid wooded, brushy, and grassy areas, especially during warmer months (April – September), although tick bites can occur at any time.
- Wear light-colored clothing so that you can see ticks on your clothes more easily.
- Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
- Apply insect repellents on uncovered skin, and ensure the products are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency. You can also try eucalyptus oil; it acts as a repellent and tick killer when sprayed on the body.
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and shoes that cover the entire foot.
- Tuck pant legs into socks or shoes, and tuck shirts into pants.
- Wear a hat for extra protection.
- Walk in the center of trails to avoid brush and grass.
- Remove your clothing after being outdoors, and wash and dry them at high temperatures.
- Do a careful body check for ticks after outdoor activities (picnics, hiking, etc).
Summing it Up:
Ticks can attach themselves to nearly any animal, making them a carrier. Wild animals that commonly have ticks include deer, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, birds, and lizards. Ticks can also find their way onto your cat or dog and subsequently find their way into your home and around your family, making you a potential host.
This summer, True Care would like to remind all of our clients and caregivers to be cautious of ticks when enjoying the outdoors, and to know the characteristics of ticks that carry Lymes disease, which can affect the joints, heart, and nervous system. For more information on how to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this summer, visit our blog!