Warmer Weather Brings Concerns for Ticks and Lyme Disease
As we enter spring, the weather is warming and people are enjoying spending time outside. If you spend time outdoors or have pets that spend time in the back yard, you are at risk for tick bites that may expose you to lyme disease.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people are at the greatest risk of tick bites in the late spring and summer. Immature (baby) ticks commonly bite humans, are as small as a poppy seed, and difficult to see.
Ticks are excellent at hiding in areas that we do not commonly see on our own bodies, such as our underarms or behind knees. They are so tiny at their younger stages, it is possible for a tick to bite and move on before being discovered. Nearly half those that are infected by lyme disease may not even remember being bitten by a tick.
Lyme disease gives similar symptoms to flu, including fever, body aches, fatigue and headaches. Sometimes a bull’s-eye style rash is present but while the rash is considered to be a classic sign of lyme disease, up to half of those infected may not have shown any rash.
The tick itself is not the culprit. Ticks often bite other animals that carry a bacteria and spread the bacteria to others with subsequent bites. Lyme disease is serious and if not treated early, the infection can spread. Joints, the heart, and the nervous system can all be impacted with serious neurological symptoms including chronic headache, fatigue, stiff neck, memory lapses, tingling sensations in the arms or legs, and vision problems.
Rebecca LeBlanc, former physician assistant at Madison Medical Center, one of North Florida Medical Centers ten health centers, shared that “it is a misconception that lyme disease or rocky mountain spotted fever are isolated to Lyme, Connecticut or rocky mountain regions from which they gained their names. I have diagnosed three cases of lyme disease over the last year.”
The best course is to avoid direct contact with ticks. The CDC recommends being extra vigilant April-September. They provide these tips:
- Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
- Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks. (Some research suggests that shorter drying times may also be effective, particularly if the clothing is not wet.)
If you suspect that you may have been exposed to lyme disease or another tickborne disease, please see a medical professional. Be sure to tell the doctor if you have a recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.