While the popular saying is “don’t let the bed bugs bite,” you should also take measures to avoid a bite from another nasty critter – ticks.
Blacklegged ticks, also called deer ticks, infected with Lyme disease (caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi) can transmit the disease to humans through a bite.
“Ticks live on deer and mice that inhabit forests, fields, grassy areas, and bushes,” says David A. Lowe, MD, infectious disease specialist at Kent Hospital. “When outdoors, protect yourself by covering up and using insect repellent with DEET.”
Ticks can be tricky little buggers. They typically choose to hide in hard-to-see places such as the scalp, groin, back of knee, and armpits. That’s why it’s important to check your entire body for ticks, especially in your hair and folds of skin, after you’ve completed an outdoor activity, Dr. Lowe says. Be sure to take a shower as well.
Check your clothing and outdoor gear for ticks. Use tick preventatives on pets, and don’t allow pets to sleep in your bed.
If you find an attached tick, remove it right away with a fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin’s surface as possible. If the tick is not yet swollen with blood, you are most likely not infected. Keep in mind that not all ticks carry disease.
Typically, ticks that bite are tiny (less than 2 millimeters in size), immature ticks called nymphs. Their size makes them difficult to spot. Adult ticks can also transmit the bacteria, but because they are larger you are more likely to discover them before they do their dirty work. Nymphs feed in the spring and summer while adults feed in cooler months. A tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more to transmit disease.
Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease
If you take the precautions stated previously, you’ll greatly reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease. However, if you do get the disease, there are effective treatments available.
First, be aware of the signs and symptoms. In the first stage of Lyme disease, you may experience:
- Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and headache.
- A characteristic red bull’s-eye shaped rash around the bite between three to 30 days after being bitten. The rash may grow up to 12 inches across, may feel warm, and may last three to five weeks.
See a doctor as soon as you experience symptoms. Laboratory tests can determine if you are infected.
“When people get early treatment for Lyme disease, that’s usually the end of it,” Dr. Lowe says. “Left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the heart, nervous system, and joints. In addition, after you have been treated for Lyme disease, you may develop a fatigue syndrome which takes several months to improve. Antibiotics at this point do not shorten the course of the fatigue syndrome.”
In rare instances, Lyme disease may cause serious complications.
So enjoy the great outdoors but be wary of dangerous pests, such as ticks, lurking about.