The area in which I live has a large population of deer ticks and Lyme disease is quite prevalent. I have known people who developed the disease and if it is not caught right away it can be a major health problem.
I have spent a lot of time in the woods and have been quite lucky in that I have not had a tick bit since I was a child. The one thing that I attempt to do is to stay to the center of trails as much as possible and check myself regularly.
If you get a bite from an infected tick, the sooner treatment begins the better! Ticks live in dirt and consume blood from a number of animals that carry multiple disease causing organisms. Ticks are known to be infected with pathogens that can spread through the body quickly and cause a variety of mild to life-threatening symptoms.
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness caused by a bacterium called a “spirochete,” which may be transmitted to humans by the bite of infected ticks (Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes pacificus). The actual name of the bacterium in the United States is Borrelia burgdorferi. In Europe, another bacterium, Borrelia afzelii, also causes Lyme disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
The early symptoms of Lyme disease may be mild and easily missed. If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove the tick with tweezers, and watch for the symptoms. In 60-80% of cases the first symptom is a bull’s-eye shaped rash that
- Occurs at or near the site of the tick bite.
- Is a “bulls-eye” circular patch or solid red patch that grows larger.
- Appears between three days and one month after the tick bite.
- Has a diameter of two to six inches.
- Lasts for about three to five weeks.
- May or may not be warm to the touch.
- Is usually not painful or itchy.
- Sometimes leads to multiple rashes.
Ticks will attach themselves anywhere including the thighs, groin, trunk, armpits and behind the ears. If you are infected, the rash may be found in one of these areas.
Around the time the rash appears, other symptoms, such as joint pain, chills, fever and fatigue can occur, but they may seem too mild to require medical attention. As Lyme disease progresses, severe fatigue, a stiff neck, tingling or numbness in the arms and legs, or facial paralysis can occur.
The most severe symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until weeks, months or years after the tick bite. These can include severe headaches, painful arthritis, swelling of the joints, and heart and central nervous system problems.
How Can I Protect Against Ticks and Prevent Lyme Disease?
Deer ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level. They will cling to tall grass, brush and shrubs, usually no more than 18-24 inches off the ground. They also live in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woods.
Deer ticks cannot jump or fly, and do not drop onto passing people or animals. They get on humans and animals only by direct contact. Once a tick gets on the skin, it generally climbs upward until it reaches a protected area.
In tick-infested areas, your best protection is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation. However, if you garden, hike, camp, hunt, work or otherwise spend time in the outdoors, you can still protect yourself:
- Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
- Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.
- Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors.
- Consider using insect repellent.
- Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid dense woods and bushy areas.
- Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stonewalls.
- Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.
- Bath or shower as soon as possible after going indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be on you.
- Do a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day (also check children and pets), and remove ticks promptly.
Consider using EPA-registered insect repellents:
- DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can be applied to exposed skin. Products that contain 20% or more DEET can provide protection that lasts up to several hours. Use the lowest concentration that you will need for the amount of time you will be outdoors.
- Picaridin is a colorless, nearly odorless ingredient that can be applied to exposed skin in a range of 5 to 20% of the active ingredient.
- Permethrin: Clothes, shoes and camping gear can be treated or purchased pretreated with permethrin. Its protection can last through many washes. Never apply permethrin to skin.
- If you DO find a tick attached to your skin, do not panic. Not all ticks are infected, and your risk of Lyme disease is greatly reduced if the tick is removed within the first 36 hours.
To remove a tick:
- Use a pair of pointed tweezers to grasp the tick by the head or mouth parts right where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body.
- Pull firmly and steadily outward. DO NOT jerk or twist the tick.
- Place the tick in a small container of rubbing alcohol to kill it.
- Clean the bite wound with 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.
Doxycycline, amoxicillin and ceftin are the three oral antibiotics most highly recommended for treatment of all but a few symptoms of Lyme disease. A recent study of Lyme arthritis in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that a four-week course of oral doxycycline is just as effective in treating late Lyme disease, and much less expensive, than a similar course of intravenous Ceftriaxone (Rocephin) unless neurological or severe cardiac abnormalities are present. If these symptoms are present, the study recommends immediate intravenous (IV) treatment.
The bottom line is that prevention is your best protection, especially after TEOTWAWKI.