Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia. Humans are exposed to this germ by getting bitten by the blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. Ticks contact the bacteria and get infected when they feed on infected animals and can pass it to humans by biting them. Lyme disease occurs in both adults and children. Symptoms usually begin within a few weeks after the tick bite and include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Skin rash with a specific look (a bull's eye)
A late form of the disease can cause more serious problems such as arthritis, facial paralysis (inability to move the face muscles), meningitis and heart infection or carditis. These complications usually occur when the disease is not detected and treated early. Although most cases initially occurred in New England and the Eastern/mid-Atlantic states in the USA, Lyme disease has also been reported in Canada. Confirming the diagnosis of Lyme disease requires special blood tests. Once the diagnosis is made, the treatment is antibiotics for up to 28 days, either by mouth or Intra-Venous, depending on the individual situation.
There are various types of ticks, but only the blacklegged tick can spread the disease. Ticks are small, about the size of a sesame seed, but when they feed off human blood, grow much larger (referred to as “engorged”). Note that a bite from a tick does not always cause Lyme disease and not all ticks are blacklegged ticks. An infected tick must be attached to a person for more than 24 hours before it can transmit the infection to its bite victim. By understanding deer tick behavior, we can help better control their growth, presence and spread. Here is what we also know about the deer or blacklegged ticks:
- They do not fly, jump or drop from trees, but move slowly on the ground and may settle on tall grass ;
- They love the woods, tall grass and prefer shaded humid areas;
- They do not like cement, brick, stones or mulch;
- They lurk in grassy areas and cling on to humans who happen to pass by;
It is important to know that a bite from a tick does not always cause Lyme disease. If you live or work near woods or overgrown bush, you hike, camp, fish or hunt, or have an outdoor job working in landscaping or brush areas; you have a higher chance of getting Lyme disease.
A comprehensive approach to prevention
Basically, there are several preventative approaches:
-Personal protection precautions including:
- Wear light colored clothing, with long pants and a long sleeved shirt.
- Wear closed shoes and socks and tuck your pants into your socks. Do not wear sandals.
- Use a tick repellant containing DEET.
- Keep your grass well cut.
- Put a tick and flea collar on your pet.
If you are in a region where you know there are ticks that carry the Lyme disease bacreria, make sure you check yourself and your children for ticks, especially in the groin, scalp, and armpit areas. Taking a shower upon returning from a grassy or wooded area is also helpful in removing ticks. If you do find a tick on your skin or your child’s skin, remove it with a pair of tweezers as soon as possible, and wash and disinfect your hands as well as the bite area. If the tick has been there for more than 24 hours, or if you have any other concerns, please contact your healthcare provider.
-Landscape management around the home:
Experts suggest that specific landscape management steps can help create a “tick-free” zone around your home, especially if it is next to a wooded or grassy area. These recommendations stem from our understanding of tick behavior and which habitat they prefer:
- Keep grass mowed short;
- Trim bushes and trees to let in sunlight (ticks avoid hot, dry locations);
- Create a border of gravel or woodchips one meter or wider around your yard if you’re next to a wooded area, or one with tall grasses;
- Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn and from stone walls and wood piles;
- Keep children’s swing sets/playground equipment/sandboxes away from wooded areas and consider placing these on a woodchip/mulch foundation;
So when assessing the “tick risk” of an specific area, think of where ticks might prefer or not: For example they will not likely be on a paved or sandy pathway, but will likely be hiding in the grass in a forest or grassy area.
The above personal and landscape precautions as well as being vigilant about checking yourselves(and kids)for ticks when appropriate, are all important efforts in our collective effort to prevent or limit Lyme disease as much as possible.