Summer means plenty of healthy outdoor activities, but the little tick may have other plans for us. This particular arachnid carries a bacteria that causes Lyme disease, which, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems. It is therefore crucial that everyone knows how to minimize the risk of contracting the disease and to recognize the symptoms of an infection.
Prevention in the backyard and beyond
Ticks can live anywhere, but they thrive in forests and areas that are damp, dark or overgrown. That includes gardens that are overgrown or near wooded areas. Mow your garden. And if your kids have a backyard playset that borders trees, create a wood chip barrier. Ticks have trouble crossing a dry, sunny area.
The chance of exposure to ticks increases significantly in meadows and forests. When hiking there, wear light-colored clothing — which makes it easier to spot ticks — and treat clothing and hiking gear with the insecticide permethrin. It takes several washes. But don't spray it on your skin.
Do not rely on repellents to prevent tick bites. They are good at keeping mosquitoes away, but they don't kill ticks, just repel them. Ticks may be able to walk over the sprayed skin and seek shelter in an area you missed, such as an ear.
After a walk it is wise to do a tick check. Take off all your clothes and wash them or put them in the dryer as ticks cannot survive the heat. Then shower and check for ticks. If you wash away a tick before it attaches itself, it has no chance to pass on the bacteria.
Remove a tick safely
The only correct way to remove a tick is with tweezers. Place the tip of the tweezers as close to the skin and as close to the tick's head as possible and pull straight up. Do not use a match or nail polish. These myths are dangerous and can cause the tick to settle further into your skin.
If part of the tick remains in the skin, there is no need to panic. You can try to remove the remaining parts of the tick. Or you can just clean the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Your body has to break down the tick parts effectively.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease, which develop between three and 30 days after infection, mirror the early flu-like symptoms of other illnesses, including COVID-19. People often experience fever, muscle aches, fatigue, headaches and swollen lymph nodes.
There is usually no flu in the summer. If you start to get flu-like symptoms in the summer, that's probably something else. While we're obviously focusing on COVID at this point, it's also important to consider whether it could be Lyme disease.
A symptom that quickly points to the tick-borne disease is a rash at the site of infection. A ring-shaped rash is a telltale symptom of Lyme disease. But a rash doesn't always appear and when it does, it can take a different form.
Get medical treatment
It is essential to treat Lyme disease as early as possible before serious complications can develop. Anyone who develops a ring-shaped rash should seek medical attention, as should those with flu-like symptoms who remember being bitten by a tick in the past month. In those cases, a healthcare provider can choose to start treatment right away.
If you're not sure if you've been bitten, don't have a rash, and have tested negative for COVID, your doctor can test you for Lyme disease. But because it takes time for the antibodies to appear, you may not get an accurate test result if you have Lyme disease.
Treatment for early localized Lyme disease — when the bacteria have not yet spread through the body — is usually oral doses of the antibiotic doxycycline. If the disease progresses to the early spread of Lyme disease, antibiotics may be given intravenously. Symptoms at this stage may include severe neck stiffness, facial paralysis, arthritis, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, nerve pain, and shortness of breath.
Once those complications arise, damage occurs. You have significant limitations. The third stage, late disseminated Lyme disease, can develop months or years after an untreated infection and can cause arthritis, numbness of the limbs and neurological problems.
Both children and adults can contract Lyme disease and experience similar symptoms and medical complications.
When it comes to contracting Lyme disease, the person's age doesn't matter. The age of the tick may matter more. An adult tick is larger and easier to see. Younger ticks – nymphs – are smaller and easy to miss, allowing them to stay on the body longer and transmit the bacteria. Therefore, in addition to preventive efforts, it is crucial to recognize the symptoms.