Back to articles

Protecting yourself from Lyme disease

Body

As the weather begins to get warmer, more of us will resume our outdoor summer activities. Hiking, biking and even walking through nature are all great ways to soak up Vitamin D and lift your spirits. However, just as you protect yourself from the sun’s damaging effects as you’re enjoying the summertime activities, it’s also important to protect yourself from Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is an infection that is caused by bacteria (Borrelia burgdoferi) transmitted by the black-legged tick, commonly referred to as the deer tick. White-tailed deer and white-footed mice transmit the bacteria to the ticks that bite them. Likewise, the bacteria are passed along to humans through a bite from an infected tick. Traditionally, the disease has been most prevalent in the Northeast, but cases have been reported in all 50 states. There are approximately 30,000 cases reported each year to the Center for Disease Control, but the CDC estimates that the actual number is closer to 300,000 per year.

The chance that you might get Lyme disease from a tick bite depends on the kind of tick and how long it was attached to you. ONLY the black-legged tick carries the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease. The tick must be attached to you for at least 24 hours, but you are not likely to get infected if the tick is removed within 48 hours.

But don’t worry! There are easy steps that can be taken to prevent contracting Lyme disease, allowing you to enjoy the outdoors without fear:

  • Know where to expect ticks. Black-legged ticks live in wooded or grassy areas. They cannot jump or fly, but may climb onto animals or people as they pass by. Take precautions when walking through woods, tall grass, bushes, leaves or other vegetation.
  • Wear long pants and socks when going into areas where ticks may be found. It is a good idea to tuck pant legs into socks or into boots.
  • Wear a tick repellant on your skin and clothing. Commercial insect repellants that contain DEET, picaridin, lemon oil, eucalyptus oil, IR3535 or 2-undecanone have been found to be effective at repelling ticks. The chemical permethrin can be applied to clothing or camping equipment, but must not be applied to skin. Parents should apply any product used on children, being careful to avoid hands, eyes and mouth. A list of natural tick repellants may be found at: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/natural-repellents.html.
  • If possible, shower within two hours of being in potential tick habitats. Not only is it a good idea to remove the bug repellant from skin, it also increases your likelihood of discovering any tick that might be hiding either on your body or clothing.
  • Examine your skin. Ticks come in three sizes depending on their stage of life. Larvae are the size of a grain of sand, nymphs the size of a poppy seed, and adults the size of an apple seed. Look closely along the hairline, at the back of the neck, inside and behind ears, armpits, belly button, waistline, groin, legs especially behind the knees and between toes. Should you discover a tick, remove it as quickly as possible using the following method from the CDC:
    • Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
    • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
    • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
    • Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.
       
  • Put clothing in a hot dryer for 10 minutes to kill any hidden pests. Washing in hot water, followed by drying gives the best results, but simply drying will do.
  • Protect your pets. To keep pets from bringing unwanted pests into your home, treat them with a tick repellant as suggested by your vet.

If you have discovered a tick on your skin or experience a rash, fever or any other suspicious symptoms after being outside, see a doctor immediately. Most individuals who contract Lyme disease recover completely with antibiotics, but immediate treatment is best.

Fear of Lyme disease should not keep you from enjoying nature or engaging in outdoor activities. While it’s always advisable to take precautions against tick bites, the great outdoors is still calling your name.