Before you take to the woods for hiking this summer it may be a good idea to take along some insect repellant and remember to check yourself often to see if you have picked up any unwanted guests. Especially, ticks. Early summer months are the ideal season for major tick infestations and just one deer tick can increase your risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease, also known as Tick Fever, is an infection caused by a bacterium that is carried by deer ticks. An infected tick can pass on the disease to animals or humans when they attach themselves to the host and go undetected. It takes an infected tick 36-48 hours to infect a host with the bacterium causing Lyme disease so for individuals who may come in contact with ticks, examining yourself daily and removing ticks as soon as possible greatly decreases the risk of contracting the disease.
Especially at risk during the summer months are those individuals that come in contact with overgrown vegetation. Hiking, gardening or exposures to pets that may be carrying in ticks from outdoors are a few ways you could come in contact with ticks.
While there are many varieties of ticks, there are only two types known to transmit the disease to humans, they are the deer tick or western black-legged tick. There are good photos of deer ticks and the western black- legged ticks available at the Lyme Disease Network website for those wanting to identify the ticks most often found.
Prevention is best done by avoiding contact with ticks as much as possible. Ticks can attach themselves anywhere on the body but often hide behind the knee, under the arm, or in the groin area. The back of the neck and in the hairline is also spots ticks may go unnoticed. If hiking or camping outdoors, check often for ticks. Use of an insect repellent containing DEET may help, but shouldn’t be entirely relied upon. Repellents may lose their effectiveness over several hours and if not re-applied leave you unprotected.
Wearing light colored clothing outdoors will make spotting ticks easier. When hiking avoid sitting on grassy patches or rock walls as these are favored spots for ticks to be found. Remove any ticks as soon as you notice them, if they have attached, themselves to the skin, remove using tweezers being certain to grasp the lower part of the head to avoid leaving part of the tick attached. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the area and watch for signs of rash or infection.
If ticks are removed promptly, there is less chance of infection. Finding a tick is not a cause for panic as most cases of Lyme disease are easily cured with early diagnosis and treatment.
Early signs of Lyme Disease include:
• A red rash which may be solid or ‘bull’s-eye’ in appearance at the site of the bite
• Swollen lymph nodes near the site
• General aches and stiffness ( often described as flu-like)
• Headaches with or without fever
If left untreated, later signs and symptoms may include:
• Rashes spreading to other spots on the body
• Aches and pains in joints that come and go and vary in intensity
• Headache accompanied by a stiff neck
• Increased fever
• Sore throat
• Changes in vision
• Extreme fatigue
In extreme cases, untreated Lyme disease can lead to numbness in the hands and feet, arthritis and permanent neurological problems. If you have any reasons to suspect Lyme disease go to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. The rash occurs in over 90% of cases and should be a sign to start treatment immediately. With early treatment most cases are easily cured with no long-standing complications. Delaying treatment longer than three weeks after the first signs of infection decreases the likelihood for speedy recovery.
Don’t let the tiny deer tick stop your enjoyment of the summer season. Knowledge is the key to preventing any tick borne illnesses.
American Lyme Disease Foundation: online
Pictures of Ticks and Rashes; Lyme Disease Network; online