Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted by the bite of the tiny black-legged tick — also known as the deer tick. These ticks are about the size of a poppyseed.
Deer don’t infect ticks with the bacteria that causes Lyme. Rather, birds and small mammals are the culprit, VanAcker explained. The deer simply provide the tick with a home to breed and grow.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a bullseye skin rash. If not treated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Human risk for getting Lyme disease depends on the abundance of deer ticks, as well as deer and mice, which are part of the ticks’ life cycle.
For the study, VanAcker and her colleagues sampled ticks in 24 parks in the five boroughs of New York City.
The researchers found deer ticks that carried the Lyme bacteria in parks that were accessible to deer, particularly those in the Bronx and Staten Island.
No deer ticks were found in Manhattan’s Central Park, which is cut off from deer, VanAcker noted.
Infected ticks were mostly found in forested parks with vegetation around the edges and connected to each other.
By extrapolating their data, the investigators found that the deer tick population in these parks is as dense as it is in areas where Lyme disease is common.
VanAcker suspects that other diseases carried by the deer tick are also present in parks populated by deer. Her next study will try to find out what other tick-borne diseases lurk in city parks.
Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said, “There’s a lot more Lyme disease coming from non-rural areas, especially Staten Island.”
Siegel noted that the Lyme rash only occurs in 60% of patients. He looks for symptoms such as fatigue and muscle aches.
The best way to not get Lyme disease is to take precautions. These include wearing long pants tucked into your socks and using an insect repellent containing DEET and staying on trails, according to Lorraine Johnson, the CEO of LymeDisease.org.
Also, you should check yourself for ticks when you get home. “The best way to do that is to take a shower and feel your skin, because these ticks are really small,” Johnson said.
The report was published in the June issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of LymeNow or the LymeNow community.