Protect yourself from tick bites this summer by learning where to expect them, wearing insect repellent, performing tick checks, learning how to remove ticks quickly and correctly, and being alert for fevers or rashes, which are often the first signs of Lyme disease.
What can I do to prevent Lyme disease?
What you wear, where you go, checking for ticks, and creating tick-safe zones in your yard are some precautions you can take to prevent Lyme disease. Deer ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level and live in lawns, gardens, and at the edges of woods and old stone walls, yet, this doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy nature in the spring or summer.
What you wear can help reduce the risk of coming in contact with a tick and make it easier to spot if you do find one on you. Covering your skin minimizes the risk of finding exposed skin to bite. Here are some wardrobe-related methods to prevent Lyme disease:
- Wear insect repellent and treat clothing with products that contain permethrin to repel ticks
- Wear light-colored clothing that is woven tightly to spot ticks easily and prevent them from crawling through the material
- Wear close-toed shoes, a long-sleeve shirt, and long pants to minimize exposed skin
- Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants to minimize exposed skin
- Keep long hair tied back, especially while gardening, to prevent hair from coming in contact with the ground
- Place clothing in the dryer on high heat for six minutes to kill ticks on clothing
Places to Avoid
Whether hiking or gardening, knowing where there might be ticks can help prevent you from contracting Lyme disease. Here are some tips to consider when participating in outdoor activities to avoid ticks:
- Walk in the center of hiking trails
- Avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation
- Avoid sitting on the ground or on stone walls
Creating Tick-Safe Zones
Consider modifying your landscape with these easy fixes to create “tick-safe zones.” Including:
- Keeping patios, play areas, and playground equipment away from shrubs and other vegetation.
- Regularly removing leaves, tall grasses, and brush around your home
- Placing wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to keep ticks away
- Using acaricides (tick pesticides) to reduce the number of ticks, however, do not solely rely on this to reduce risk of Lyme disease
- Discouraging deer by removing plants that attract deer or constructing a fence as deer are the main food source of adult ticks
Perform Daily Tick Checks
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors–even if you were just in your backyard. Setting aside time to check yourself for ticks can help you spot and remove a tick before it bites. Adult ticks and immature ticks are tiny, making it difficult to feel if there’s one on you.
Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view your entire body, paying particular attention to these areas:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around all head and body hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
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How Lyme Disease is Spread?
Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected tick, specifically the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick. A tick is not born with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease; rather, it acquires the disease by biting infected animals such as deer or mice.
A tick can attach to any part of the human body to obtain a blood meal. In most cases, if the tick is infected, it must be attached to the body for 36 to 48 hours or more before Lyme disease is transmitted.
Below is a photo depicting the relative sizes of blacklegged ticks at each life stage:
Source: CDC Lyme Disease Transmission
Most humans are infected by the bites of immature ticks called nymphs as they are difficult to see and feed during the spring and summer months–often referred to as “tick season.”
Nymphs are approximately the size of a poppy seed, while an adult is about the size of a sesame seed. Tick season usually ends when temperatures begin to decline and drop below freezing.
Prevalence of Lyme Disease
There are approximately 476,00 cases of Lyme Disease in the U.S. each year. The blacklegged tick that causes Lyme Disease predominantly lives in moist or humid environments in wooded or grassy areas. Below is a map of reported cases of Lyme Disease in 2019 in the U.S.:
Source: CDC Lyme Disease Maps
Lyme disease is most prevalent in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States. The western blacklegged tick spreads the disease on the Pacific Coast.
Factors that Increase Risk of Lyme Disease
You are at higher risk of Lyme disease if you:
- Live in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, or north-central United States
- Spend time in grassy and wooded environments
- Spend time outdoors in the spring and summer months or during “tick season”
- Do not remove a tick from your skin within the first 36 hours
- Do not take preventative measures
What should do if there’s a tick on me?
If you find a tick on yourself or a loved one, don’t panic. Not all ticks are infected, and the risk of acquiring Lyme disease is dramatically reduced if you remove the tick within the first 24 hours after attachment. Removing a tick is fairly simple and can be done in your own home. To remove an attached tick:
- Use a clean pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If you cannot remove the mouthparts, that is okay as the mouthparts alone cannot transmit the disease.
- Dispose of the tick by placing it in a sealed container/bag (if seeking medical care, bring this to your doctor appointment).
- Clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Depending on how long the tick was attached can affect whether you should seek care or not. The CDC has a Tick Bite Bot, which is a tool you can use to assist you in removing a tick and seeking health care, if appropriate, after a tick bite.
If you remove a tick that appears to have been attached for over 24 hours, you may be eligible for a single dose of the antibiotic doxycycline to prevent Lyme disease.
What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
Even if you aren’t aware of being bitten by a tick, a rash and sudden fever can indicate the first signs of Lyme disease, especially if you were outdoors recently. Early symptoms usually appear within 3 to 30 days after the bite of an infected tick. If you have symptoms, immediately contact your healthcare provider.
If left untreated, Lyme disease can produce a wide range of symptoms, including fever, rash, facial paralysis, headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, and arthritis, and can spread as the infection progresses.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Lyme disease is curable with antibiotics if treated early; however, the chances of a complete cure decrease if treatment is delayed. If you suspect Lyme disease, do not wait until symptoms worsen before seeking care.
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Lyme Disease Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Consider the following frequently asked questions about Lyme disease and ticks.
Can I get tested for Lyme disease at urgent care?
Yes, you can get tested for Lyme disease at an urgent care facility and will be given two blood tests to detect antibodies trying to fight the bacteria and a second one to confirm the disease. If you have Lyme disease, you may need to take antibiotics for up to a month.
You can also order at-home tests for $109, although this can be complicated to do yourself.
If you were bitten by a tick or found a tick on you, you can send it to a lab to check if the tick has Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses.
Can ticks jump or fly?
Ticks cannot jump or fly–only crawl–and do not fall onto passing people or animals. Ticks get on humans by direct contact, and once they are on the skin, they normally climb to look for a protected, hard-to-see area.
Oftentimes, ticks attach to the groin, scalp, or armpits but can attach to any part of the body, which is why it is crucial to check for ticks thoroughly.
Can I donate blood if I have Lyme disease?
You should not donate blood if you are currently on antibiotics to treat Lyme disease. If you have completed antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease, you may be eligible as a potential blood donor.
How does climate change affect Lyme Disease prevalence?
Studies have shown that increasing temperatures due to climate change have contributed to the expanded range of ticks, increasing the risk of Lyme disease. Warmer temperatures allow ticks to live in areas, such as Canada, where they previously could not.
Additionally, shorter winters can extend “tick season” or the period of the year when ticks are active, which also increases the risk of the disease. With the incidence of Lyme disease nearly doubling since 1991, it is crucial to take preventative measures to reduce the risk of infection.
Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States and is curable if caught early with antibiotics. It is also preventable if you wear proper clothing, know where ticks live to avoid them, check for ticks after being outdoors, and create tick-safe zones in outdoor recreational areas.
If you are experiencing early signs of Lyme disease or have removed a tick after 24 hours of attachment, you should seek medical treatment. For just $45 per month, Mira offers members access to low-cost urgent care, affordable lab testing, and discounted prescriptions at up to 80 percent off. Sign up today to get started!
Erica graduated from Emory University in Atlanta with a BS in environmental science and a minor in English and is on track to graduate with her Master's in Public Health. She is passionate about health equity, women's health, and how the environment impacts public health.