Are you planning a hike outdoors or a trip to the park with your kids? It's time to brush up on the facts about those creepy crawly ticks lurking in grass and wooded areas. Deer tick season begins in June 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 also known as blacklegged ticks. Deer ticks are smaller than the wood (or dog) tick and 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.
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 the tick image below. Note that the ticks are next to a centimeter ruler.
Left to right in this photo: - adult female deer tick - adult male deer tick - nymph deer tick - deer tick larva is to the far right. (Graphic image above includes a photo of ticks from Minnesota Dept. of Health: Blacklegged Ticks (Deer Tick, Bear Tick).
What to do if you find a deer tick
The sooner you can remove a deer tick the better. To prevent lyme disease do DAILY tick checks because you want the deer tick to embed your skin for less than 24-48 hours.
- 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.
- Do NOT 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.
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Diagnosis, Symptoms, Tick Comparisons, Prevention, Location of Lyme Disease Outbreaks,