- Deer Ticks (Blacklegged Ticks – Ixodes Scapularis) can carry Lyme Disease and are VERY TINY in physical size.
- Protect yourself by becoming aware of their size and available repellents (Picaridin & Permethrin) that can work to keep ticks off of you and your loved ones.
- Learn what to do if you find an embedded tick on your body.
Deer Ticks (Blacklegged Ticks – Ixodes Scapularis) can carry Lyme Disease and are VERY TINY. CDC photo.
By Forrest Fisher
It’s time to fish, hike, camp, and bird-watch, and it’s time to sit on a quiet park bench anyplace you like. Right now is also an excellent time to take 5 minutes to learn more about deer ticks and Lyme disease. Read this article. Remember it. Please share it. It could save you or your loved ones from a life of medical care and unwanted jeopardy.
According to the CDC, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and, rarely, Borrelia mayonii. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.
Several years back, but not that long ago, three of my seven grandkids were bitten by a tiny little critter that many of us would have passed off as a speck of dirt and not thought twice about it. But, the little sliver of dirt was hard to brush off. It was embedded into the skin and looked like a tiny, little beauty spot. At first notice, the thought is that it’ll go away. It’s just a beauty post or a piece of dirt. Get some soap. That was just the beginning. After a shower and a few days of baths, good old Mom noticed that the little brand-new beauty spot had grown in size. She did not know there was a little critter in there, and it had filled its holding tanks with her child’s blood. It was a juvenile deer tick—less than the size of a dark sesame seed on your morning bagel.
In the old days, most of us would say, so what? You got bit by a tick, grow up, be a big boy and take a shower more often. Today, science has educated us. The concern today is that deer ticks carry Lyme disease and many other pathogens that cause diseases that are hard to diagnose and harder to treat. In many cases, if initially left untreated, the best prognosis for the more than 400 other Lyme-related diseases is front and center.
Back to the grandchild. Two days later, that little beauty spot was suddenly about 25 times larger. It was easy to see now. Trying to brush off that little spot directly caused a gush of blood from the embedded deer tick. The blood ran and stained the skin. So much so that the blood was running like when you have a small cut on your skin surface. Deer ticks are hungry little, suction-prone, disease-exchanging little critters. Not a disaster, but you might need a few tissues and a small band-aid. That’s not the end. The actual deer tick was still embedded. You or a medical person with skilled tweezers must remove the tick and wait a few weeks to see if you develop Lyme symptoms or get it tested to identify if it carries Lyme disease. Visit Ticknology at https://www.ticknology.org/tick-testing. Lyme and tick-borne disease is often misdiagnosed. As a result, the opportunity for early treatment is missed. Ticknology is one of several lab services that offer tick testing to identify early detection of Lyme or related disease exposure. Many folks prefer to order a Universal Tick Test from Ticknology and receive a comprehensive evaluation of Lyme-related infection risk.
The truth of the deer tick world is that many of these little critters are so small right now – in their nymph stage (just born) – they are hungry and looking for a host. Like their deer tick parents who used up all their energy delivering hundreds of young deer ticks. The deer ticks get Lyme disease from the mice, not vice versa. The ticks cuddle close to the mouse as they are trying to stay warm in the coldest of winter. Then the deer ticks find warm weather, and they leave the mouse. The mommy deer ticks are looking to bear their young on a flower, a weed, a horse, a dog, a backyard plant, a rose, you, me, or somewhere on a bristle of green weeds in your garden and many other places. The point is, beware of these little disease carriers and killers of human health. Why the sudden increase in deer tick numbers and Lyme cases? That’s a mystery.
About 15 years ago, many doctors misdiagnosed Lyme disease for about 400 other conditions. Many folks today still suffer from that lack of early medical awareness. Times have changed, the blood testing process is better, and the medical world has recognized this mysterious disease’s seriousness. About 40 percent of deer ticks tested today are carrying Lyme. Be aware.
What to do if you like to enjoy the outdoors: Stay aware. Understand that tick season is year-round, and spring and summer are their peak activity periods. Be careful if you hike in wooded areas or venture forth in places with high grass. Walk in the center of the trails. Wear long sleeves and, while it may look stupid, tuck your pants into your socks or shoes top. Use tick-repellent products registered by the US EPA. According to reports, DEET is effective, but the go-to for most folks is to use Picaridin on your exposed skin outside your clothing and treat your exterior clothing, shoes, socks, and other gear with Permethrin. The Permethrin (0.5 percent strength) can last several washings (about four to six weeks). Once your hike, bike, camp or outdoor adventure trip is over and you are back inside at home, toss all your clothes into the dryer on high heat for 10-15 minutes. Heat kills deer ticks. Then do a full body check. Use a mirror. Be extra sure in difficult-to-see areas such as under your arms, around your hair, ears, back of knees, between your legs and especially here: inside your belly button. This is serious; no laughing. To further reduce risk, shower immediately after coming in and after your initial inspection. Why shower immediately? There may still be ticks on you that went unnoticed and are not yet attached. A shower will wash them away.
Uh-oh. During your look-see, you find a deer tick on you. It’s embedded. Not to worry, but remove it. The CDC says to use tweezers to remove the tick. Grip the tick and apply a steady outward pressure across the entire diameter of the embedded tick. It may take a few seconds or a minute, but it will eventually come out. Do not twist the tick with the tweezers. We don’t want to break off the mouth. Then save the tick. Wrap it in a tissue and place it into an old prescription container. Then clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap/water, and wash your hands thoroughly. You can watch for symptoms for the next few weeks or visit your doctor. Show him your tick. Depending on his diagnosis, he may send it for testing or provide antibiotics. About eight out of 10 people immediately treated are cured when bitten by a Lyme-carrying tick. The numbers show that about 10 to 20 percent develop Lyme disease syndrome with lingering symptoms, including fatigue, joint pain, mental confusion, and much more. Deer ticks carry Lyme and many other diseases. It can be nasty.
If you were bit and developed a “bulls-eye” rash near the bite location, about one-third of folks display this condition – the typical treatment is Doxycycline or a similar antibiotic for as long as the first 30 days. That is up to the doctor. If you have no bulls-eye rash but are developing a fever, rash or headache, muscle pain, joint swelling or other unusual symptoms, or any uncommon illness, see a doctor ASAP.
Stay aware of Lyme disease and deer ticks. AND get rid of your mice! They infect the ticks.