Over 50,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported to the New York State Health Department since Lyme disease first became a reportable disease in 1986. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). Ticks are active when the weather stays above freezing, usually from April through November. In tick infested areas, any contact with vegetation, even playing in the yard, can result in exposure to ticks.
Ticks are generally found in shady, moist areas at ground level. They cling to tall grass, brush and shrubs, usually no more than 18 – 24 inches off the ground. If brushed up against, they can attach to people or animals. Once on their “host” the ticks find a place to feed, often in hairy areas of the body like the groin, armpit, and scalp, and embed their mouth-parts through the skin into the host’s blood stream to begin feeding. Deer ticks, because they are so small (about the size of a sesame seed or smaller) can be extremely difficult to detect once they attach to their host.
Early Symptoms of Lyme Disease
- Circular rash at or near the site of the tick bite between three days and one month after the bite. (occurs in 60-80% of known cases.)
- Fever or chills
- Muscle or joint pain
Signs and symptoms can appear within 3 to 30 days of the actual bite. Severe symptoms may not appear for weeks, months, or years after being infected. These can include severe headaches, painful arthritis, swelling of the joints, and heart and central nervous system problems. Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stage of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely.
It is recommended that if you appear to have a rash with any of the other symptoms listed above, see your health care provider as soon as possible. Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stage of infection usually experience a rapid and complete recovery. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause a number of long-term severe health problems.
Preventive Measures Against Ticks
Outdoor activities like hiking, camping, gardening, and hunting all increase one’s exposure to tick bites. After returning from an outdoor activity it is recommended to check your body (also check children and pets) for ticks and remove ticks promptly. Young deer ticks, called nymphs, are brown and the size of poppy seeds. Adult female deer ticks are red and black, while males are black. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed. Pets that go outside should also be checked regularly as they can bring a tick into your home and expose you to a tick bite.
Taking the following preventive measures can help you avoid ticks, therefore reducing your risk of Lyme disease:
- Keep lawns mowed and edges trimmed.
- Remove brush, leaf litter and tall grass from around the house and the edges of gardens.
- Stack woodpiles away from the house and preferably off the ground.
- Walk in the center of paths to avoid overhanging grass and brushy areas.
- Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks more easily.
- Wear a hat and pull back long hair.
- Wear long pants that tuck into socks and boots and long sleeve shirts when outside.
- Locate children’s swing sets and other play equipment in a sunny, dry area of the yard, away from the woods.
- Keep the ground under bird feeders clean so as not to attract small animals.
- Conduct regular tick checks on exposed skin and clothing. Remember to thoroughly check your children and pets.
- Consider using an insect repellent (be sure to follow directions on the product label). Do not apply repellents near eyes, nose or mouth and use sparingly around ears. Do not apply repellents directly to children. Apply to your own hands and then put it on the child.
Removing A Tick:
If you find a tick attached to your skin (or your pet’s), do not panic. Not all ticks are infected, and the risk of Lyme disease is greatly reduced if the tick is removed within the first 36 hours. Take the following steps when removing a tick:
- Using tweezers, grasp the tick near the mouth-parts, as close to your skin as possible.
- Pull the tick in a steady, outward motion away from the skin.
- Do NOT use kerosene, matches, or petroleum jelly to remove the tick as this may cause the tick to regurgitate or salivate the infected fluids into your bloodstream, increasing your risk of infection.
- Once the tick is removed, disinfect the site with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
- Monitor the site of the bite for the next 30 days for the appearance of a rash. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately. Although not routinely recommended, taking antibiotics within three days after a tick bite may be beneficial for some persons. This would apply to deer tick bites that occurred in areas where Lyme disease is common and there is evidence that the tick fed for more than one day. In cases like this you should discuss the possibilities with your doctor or health care provider.