As the weather gets warmer and gardening, camping and hiking become anticipated activities, ticks are ready to bite. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the US every year which is spread by the bite of an infected tick. People living or visiting in New England, the mid-Atlantic state and the Midwest are at greatest risk, but ticks can make their home in any most and humid environment.
Know Your Environment
“You can get Lyme disease in a grassy area, lawns and the city park if there are carriers of Lyme disease carrying ticks,” says Dr. Michael Zimring, Director, The Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine at Mercy Medical Center. “Deer pass through my property in suburbia every day and I am sure they carry ticks and the ticks get caught on the leaves and branches of the tree they pass under. Later, when I mow my lawn under the trees, the ticks can get on me, bite and pass Lyme to me. If you have deer or certain rodents in your local park, you could get Lyme disease.”
“Blacklegged ticks (the ticks that cause Lyme disease) live in moist and humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas,” reports the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “You may get a tick on you during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through leaves and bushes. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation.”
Before you venture outside, use a repellent with DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (on clothing and gear). The CDC reports that “repellents containing 20% or more DEET can be applied to the skin and can protect up to several hours. Parents should apply repellents to their children. Do not get repellent on children’s hands or in their eyes or mouth. Products that contain permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing, and camping gear. Treated items can stay protected through several washings.”
Engage in Daily Tick Checks
“Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard,” advises the CDC. “Search your entire body for ticks when you return from an area that may have ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Take special care to check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around all head and body hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
“Check your clothing and pets for ticks because they may carry ticks into the house. Check clothes and pets carefully and remove any ticks that are found. Place clothes into a dryer on high heat to kill ticks,” says the CDC.
If you find a tick attached to your skin, use a fine-tipped tweezer to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with even pressure without twisting or jerking the tweezer. The goal is to remove the full tick. After removing the tick, clean the bite area and hands with rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub. If a rash develops within a few weeks of the tick removal, be sure to see your doctor.
What are the treatment options? “If you are properly treated for Lyme disease, it is curable,” said Dr. Zimring. “Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosis and based on symptoms similar to the flu. Important questions to ask are was the patient bitten by a tick, did he find a tick on him, how did he remove it and how long was the tick on him? There is also a typical and atypical rash. Treatment can include one dose of doxycycline 200 mg by mouth or under certain conditions, doxycycline for 3 weeks and amoxicillin for 3 weeks.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that “approximately 10 to 20% of patients treated for Lyme disease with a recommended 2–4 week course of antibiotics will have lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches. In some cases, these can last for more than 6 months. Although often called ‘chronic Lyme disease’, this condition is known as ‘post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome’ (PTLDS)