Left untreated, Lyme disease can have serious debilitating effects. It is important to be able to identify the type of tick which is the primary carrier of the disease and to recognize the early signs of infection.
Lyme disease was recognized in Sweden as long ago as 1908. It was first identified in the United States in 1975, after a mysterious outbreak of arthritis among the residents of Lyme, Connecticut. Since then, reports of Lyme disease have increased dramatically, and the disease has become an important public health problem in some areas of the United States. Lyme disease is an infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a member of the family of corkscrew-shaped bacteria known as spirochetes and is transmitted by ticks. In the Northeast, this disease is most commonly transmitted by the Blacklegged Tick, often all the Deer Tick.
For Lyme disease to exist in an area, at least three closely interrelated elements must be present in nature: the Lyme disease bacteria, ticks that can transmit them, and mammals (such as mice and deer) to provide food for the ticks in their various life stages.
The life cycle of the tick, the presence of animal vectors such as deer and rodents and the various symptoms and stages of human infection can all be very complicated. The following Penn State website has in-depth information about Lyme disease. Listed below are some common sense guidelines taken from the website to reduce your chances of being bitten by a tick and exposed to Lyme disease.
- Avoid tick-infested areas, especially in May, June, and July (many local health departments and park or extension services have information on the local distribution of ticks).
- Wear light-colored clothing so that ticks can be spotted more easily.
- Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.
- Tape the area where pants and socks meet so that ticks cannot crawl under clothing.
- Spray insect repellent containing DEET on clothes and on exposed skin other than the face, or treat clothes (especially pants, socks, and shoes) with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact.
- Wear a hat and a long-sleeved shirt for added protection.
- Walk in the center of trails to avoid overhanging grass and brush.
After being outdoors, remove clothing and wash and dry it at a high temperature; inspect body carefully and remove attached ticks with tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pulling straight back with a slow steady force; avoid crushing the tick's body. In some areas (Pennsylvania), ticks (saved in a sealed container) can be submitted to the local health department or Penn State Extension office for identification.