Be on guard for ticks and Lyme disease

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Be on guard for ticks and Lyme disease

Tick season is in full swing and over 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are estimated to occur every year in the United States.  That makes Lyme disease the most frequent tick-borne infection in North America which is also found in sixty other countries. However, because diagnosing Lyme disease can be difficult, many people who actually have it may be misdiagnosed with other conditions with many experts believing the true number to be much higher.

What is Lyme disease?

According to Lymedisease.org, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by lxodes ticks, also known as deer ticks and on the West Coast, as black-legged ticks.  Lyme disease is found throughout the United States with the tiny ticks typically found in wooded and grassy areas.

About the size of a pinhead, the ticks that transmit Lyme disease are quite tiny making them difficult to see when they come out in late spring and early summer even though the risk of Lyme disease is year round. 

Lyme disease affects people of all ages.  It is most common in children, older adults, and those such as firefighters and park rangers who spend time in outdoor activities and have a higher exposure to ticks. The disease is caused by a spirochete – a corkscrew-shaped bacterium. Lyme disease is often referred to as “The Great Imitator,” as its symptoms mimic many other diseases.  It can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.  If pregnant women are infected, they sometimes pass Lyme disease to their unborn children and, while not common, stillbirth has occurred.

How to protect yourself from Lyme disease

Since late spring and early summer is when many people are enjoying the great outdoors and the risk of contracting Lyme disease is at its peak, there are ways to prevent tick bites and getting Lyme disease.

·      Create a tick-free zone around your house

First things first – keep your lawn well manicure.  Allowing your lawn to grow tall or having taller grasses or brush nearby that you walk through, greatly increases your chance of picking up a tick as you walk by. Lawns that are well mown and grass that is well sheared will keep the tick habitat away from your home.  This helps create a tick barrier separating the tick-free habitat from the woods with a barrier.  Ticks get Lyme disease from mice.  It also helps to eliminate mouse habitats around your yard.  Any wood or rock piles should be moved far away from your house as possible as mice tend to live and breed in these areas. 

For those with a garden, keep deer out of this tick-free zone by installing an eight-foot tall deer fence.

·      Be smart when outdoors

When nice weather is enticing you to come outdoors to enjoy it, do so but with caution. If you go on a hike in the woods, stay in the middle of the path, away from high grass and brush that may be along the edge of the trail.  Simply, do not walk through tall grass or brush as ticks may be clinging to them and as you walk by, they release and get on you. 

·      Wear protective clothing and use tick repellant

One of the best ways to avoid Lyme disease is to wear clothing that minimizes the risk of a tick attaching to yourself.  When outdoors, wear lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts to make it difficult for ticks to get on your skin. 

Permethrin is a commonly-used tick pesticide that is applied to clothing and not to your skin.  Permethrin is a unique chemical as it does not need to be reapplied frequently, as it stays bound to the material of your clothing and needs only to be reapplied every few months. 

Insect repellant is another way to repel ticks.  Deet is a commonly-used tick repellant that can be applied to the skin safely in adults and children.  It must be applied every two to three hours in warm weather. 

After being outdoors, it is a good idea to shower immediately as this may help wash off ticks that have gotten on you.  Also wash and dry your clothes immediately.

Protecting your pets from Lyme disease is also a must.  Consult with your veterinarian on approved products for tick repellants for pets.

·      Check for ticks after being outdoors

The longer a tick is attached, the greater the risk for Lyme disease.  This is why it is important to do an inspection for ticks so they can be removed before they transmit Lyme disease.  Tick checks can be performed in two ways:

·      Since these ticks are so tiny, a physical inspection may help you find ticks that are hidden in areas such as behind your knees, under your armpits, around your navel, scalp, groin or buttocks. 

·      Visual inspections should be done as well.  Look for very small pinpoint-sized dark specks that are the nymph stage ticks present at this time of year.

Daily, these tick checks should be done, especially on children or others who spend time outdoors.

·      Remove ticks once found immediately

Using tweezers is the quickest way to remove ticks.  Grasp the tick between the head of the tick and the skin and pull firmly but gently away.  If the mouthpart of the tick is still left in the skin, leave them in place as they will work their way out on their own.

If you can remove the tick within the first 24 hours after they have attached, this dramatically reduces the risk of Lyme disease and is your best protection in preventing Lyme disease.