I recently returned from a trip to Minnesota where I was reminded how a stroll through a grassy area could spell trouble. Tick trouble, that is. The tiny pinhead sized deer tick is "responsible for about 20,000 reported cases of Lyme disease each year in the United States (the actual number is believed to be 10 times that) and 60,000 reported cases in Europe," according to the NYTimes.com. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early enough. If left untreated or inadequately treated, the infection can cause severe joint pain and damage.
- Great Lakes region
- Northwestern Washington
- Parts of California
June is the start of deer tick season and that means the beginning of Lyme disease season too. Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that is carried by infected deer ticks. Deer ticks are generally found in the northeastern, north central, and Pacific coastal regions of North America according to the CDC.
The tiny deer ticks live in leaves and grasses in or near wooded or brushy areas where you also find deer, mice and other mammals. The ticks can't fly or jump so they have to latch onto you when you walk by. They usually grab on at the foot or ankle and then climb up. (They attach at ground level and usually don't climb trees to search for a host.)
Even the nymph form of the tiny red tick can transmit the disease and these miniscule ticks can be difficult to see. (Check out the photo below.) Not all deer ticks are infected with the bacteria to cause Lyme disease. Some infected deer ticks leave a tell-tale red rash from the bite, but you may only experience vague symptoms that can be confused with other ailments like chronic fatigue syndrome. For example, one woman in New York tells the story of suffering for ten years undiagnosed with Lyme disease before she had effective treatment in Ticked off: 10 years living with Lyme disease on MSNBC.com
Identifying Deer Ticks
The deer tick is much smaller than the common wood tick. The adult female tick is red and dark brown. The male is smaller than the female and is dark in color. The tiny deer nymph is the size of a poppy seed. The even smaller tick larva is lighter in color. See theMinnesota Dept. of Health tick photo below.
(Photo from Minnesota Dept. of Health)
The American dog tick (wood tick) is larger than the deer tick. Click on this link to see the American Dog Tick.
- Avoid wooded brushy areas with high grass and lots of leaf "litter" because ticks love this habitat. If possible, avoid sitting on the ground in these areas.
- Make it easier to spot the tiny bugs on clothing: When outdoors in grassy or wooded areas wear light colored clothing to help you see ticks.
- Create a tick barrier: Tuck pants into socks or boots when walking in deer tick areas.
- Keep long hair pulled back or in a hat to prevent tick attachment when sitting on the ground.
- Deer tick repellant for clothing should include Permethrin.
- If you apply repellant to the skin it should contain DEET. Don't apply DEET to the face. Read the directions carefully. Also talk to your doctor about the health precautions for repellants and children. (The CDC recommends adults using repellants with 20-30% DEET on exposed skin to prevent bites.)
- Daily Tick Checks: At the end of the deer have someone do a tick check. The tick must be attached for at least 24-48 hours to transmit the bacteria.
- Pets: Check your pets for ticks each day. (There is a vaccine for pets to prevent Lyme disease, but it won't stop the ticks from hitching a ride on your pet and entering your house.) There are some topical topical repellants available for pets.
- If you find a tick on you or your pets, use a thin-bladed pair of tweezers. Grab the tick by the head or the mouth as close to the skin as possible and remove attached tick slowly and gently. (Don't use the ineffective remedies like petroleum jelly, nail polishes, or burning matches.)
- Save the tick for testing/diagnosis: Put tick in a small jar to give your health practitioner as soon as possible.
- An effective history of exposure is helpful for treatment. You can take a photo of the tick or the rash and email it to your doctor for clarification.
- You can't effectively wash ticks out of clothing, but you can get rid of them by putting clothing in the dryer for a cycle.
Because the disease has symptoms that mimic other diseases, diagnosis is often difficult. If you suspect you have been bitten, go to a doctor immediately. A physical exam and blood test may be done. But a blood test is not always conclusive. Early recognition of signs and an awareness of history of possible exposure areas is critical. Fortunately, the disease can be treated with anitbiotics. However, the earlier the diagnosis is made the better the recovery.
- Keep lawn mowed, brush trimmed, and leaf litter away from home.
- Clear vegetation on paths and trails.
- Red rash resembling a bulls-eye may be present in some case. This rash is present in 60 to 80 percent of the Lyme disease cases. Image link for this Rash
- Muscle and joint pain
- Multiple rashes
- Facial paralysis
- Stiff neck
- Weakness, numbness, pain in arms
- Irregular heart beat
- Weakness or fatigue