Thanks to climate change, the ticks that carry the Lyme disease are spreading far and wide, as are the deer that also transport them. While we have climate change in part to thank for increasing the hospitable conditions under which ticks can thrive, it doesn’t really matter. The key is to be aware that all of us could fall victim to this disease and that we all need to take precautions so we don’t get bitten by a tick in the first place.
The problem is serious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that at least 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease every year, reports Lymedisease.org. “That’s 1.5 times the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer, and six times the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS each year in the U.S.”
Not surprisingly, the disease is most common in people who spend a lot of time outdoors: kids, older adults, park rangers, even gardeners. But many times, people who have Lyme disease are misdiagnosed, as the symptoms of the disease can suggest the cause is chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and even depression.
The disease is transmitted through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. The ticks, which are so tiny you might never know you were bitten, are most active from May to July, but in warmer climates they may stay active longer. You might suspect you’ve been bitten if you suffer any of the following symptoms:
* Fever and headache
* A large expanding red or pink skin rash that may have a sort of bull’s eye in the center
* Achy joints
I was bitten last year, which I only realized when I discovered the large bull’s eye rash on my abdomen. As soon as it showed up, I rushed to the doctor, who gave me a round of antibiotics to prevent the disease from taking hold. The doctor did not wait to conduct tests to verify I’d contracted the disease. The point was to prevent the bite from leading to the disease in the first place.
How to Prevent a Tick Bite
The key to avoiding Lyme disease is to prevent getting bitten by a tick. Here are the precautions you should take, based on the recommendations of the CDC:
* Avoid high grass and leaf litter; walk in the middle of a path if you are in a forest or woods.
* When gardening in your yard or mowing your lawn, wear long pants, socks and shoes rather than shorts and sandals. You might also wear a long-sleeve shirt and a hat, as ticks can brush off deer and other wildlife and end up in the low branches of a tree, where they can drop onto you if you happen to be walking below.
* When you come in from the outdoors, check your body carefully to look for tiny ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror. If you have children, examine them carefully.
* Treat your dog or cat with solutions designed to repel ticks, following the recommendations to apply monthly. Before you bring your pet inside, comb its fur with a fine comb to reveal any ticks that could be clinging to it. Otherwise, it’s easy for the pet to transfer the tick to you.
* Rather than apply insecticide to your skin or that of your child, treat clothing, shoes, boots, gloves and jackets. The CDC recommends using insecticide that contains permethrin.
If you happen to find a tick on your skin, remove it carefully by following these directions, courtesy of the CDC:
* Do not paint it with petroleum jelly or hold a lit match close to the creature. Use a fine-tipped set of tweezers to 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; you don’t want the insect’s mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin.
* Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
* If the tick is still alive, submerse it in alcohol or flush it down the toilet. Don’t try to crush it with your fingers.
Have you ever had to contend with a tick? Please let us know how it turned out.