Are you spending more time outdoors during the pandemic? Getting fresh air is not only good for you but breaks up the monotony of staring at computer screens or the same walls day-in and day-out. There are great rewards being outside but also some risk. In a previous blog we discussed the dangers that mosquitoes pose and how to best prevent mosquito bites. Today we turn our focus to ticks.

Tick-borne diseases can be passed to humans by the bite of an infected tick. Some of the most common tick-borne diseases in the United States include Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaplasmosis, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever and tularemia. Other tick-borne diseases in the United States include Colorado tick fever, Powassan encephalitis and Q fever.

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the United States. According to the CDC, approximately 30,000 cases are reported by state health departments and the District of Columbia. However, recent estimates using other methods suggest that approximately 300,000 people may get Lyme disease each year in the United States.

What are the symptoms?

Lyme disease is often referred to as the “great imitator” because its symptoms are similar to many other diseases. Common symptoms of early Lyme disease include:

  • Rash – most are solid pink to red; uncommon: “bull’s-eye” or other appearance
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pain

If Lyme disease goes untreated, you may develop chronic Lyme symptoms. These may include:

  • Debilitating fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Arthritis
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Nerve pain and weakness
  • Heart problems
  • Psychiatric symptoms: anxiety, depression, irritability, psychosis, and more
  • Difficulty with thinking, memory, language and math skills
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Problems with vision and hearing.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

Lyme disease should be clinically diagnosed and treated. If you experience these symptoms after experiencing a tick bite or spending time outdoors, talk with a medical professional. Be sure to tell them about any symptoms you have experienced, where you live, your activities and travel. Let them know if you have allergies or preexisting conditions. If you know you were bitten by a tick and have the tick you were bitten by, discuss testing it for pathogens.

See our previous blog post on ticks and Lyme disease for more information on symptoms and diagnosis.

Prevention tips

The most effective way to prevent Lyme disease is to not be bitten by a tick in the first place. Here are six tips to help you avoid tick bites when you venture outdoors.

Avoid Tick Habitats

Ticks tend to be near the ground in areas of high grass, bushes, fallen logs or leaf litter. High risk activities include playing in leaves, gathering firewood and leaning against trees. When you hike, stay on cleared trails

Dress Defensively

Wear socks, shoes, long pants and long sleeves. Light colored clothing helps you spot ticks before they have the opportunity to bite.

Treat your clothing (inside and out) with the repellent permethrin (available under a variety of brand names, check the label for active ingredients).

Spraying your footwear with permethrin will prevent ticks from crawling up your shoes and can be highly effective and preventing tick bites.

Use Repellent on Exposed Skin

Repellents with DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil are the most effective (also effective against mosquitos).

Check for Ticks

When outdoors, periodically stop and check your clothing and skin for ticks. Brush away those that aren’t attached and immediately remove any that are.

Shower

Once home, take a shower right away. This will wash away any unattached ticks and give you the opportunity to thoroughly inspect for attached ones.

Protect Your Pets

Ticks can infect dogs and cats, too. Treat them with a veterinarian approved tick-protection method and check them regularly when they come in from outdoors. Even if a tick doesn’t attach to your pet, it can hitch a ride inside on their fur.

Correct tick removal

Using the correct method to remove a tick that’s bitten you can prevent infection:

  • Grasp the tick’s body firmly, as close to your skin as possible, using a fine-pointed tweezers.
  • Pull the tick’s head straight out, using steady even pressure, without twisting.
  • Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands after removing a tick.
  • Dispose of the tick by flushing down the toilet.
  • Use a credit card to slide under the tick in an emergency. Press upward at the mouth until the tick pulls itself out.
  • Never use a hot match, Vaseline, liquid soap, nail polish, nail polish remover, lighter fluid or other chemicals to remove the tick. These methods can make the tick vomit germs into you. The spirochetes that cause Lyme disease and related infections are in the tick’s gut, not its mouth.

If you go outside you are vulnerable to Lyme disease and many other tick-borne diseases. While early treatment can cure it; delayed diagnosis and treatment can mean a lifetime of serious illness, disability, even death.

Get serious with prevention. Don’t let ticks even touch you or your pets. It’s the most effective way to avoid Lyme disease.

To learn more

Lymedisease.org is an advocacy, education and research organization

Ilads.org is the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society

Arklf.com is the Arkansas Lyme Foundation