By Gail Marsh
Spring has sprung – several weeks ago! That means adult ticks and their babies (nymphs) are active. Really active! After sheltering under leaves and other decomposing matter, the little blood-sucking creatures are searching for hosts. And that could mean trouble for those of us who enjoy the outdoors. The reason? Ticks carry and transmit disease. The black-legged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) is notorious for carrying the Lyme disease bacteria or Borrelia burgdorferi.
So, you may be thinking, what are the actual chances of me getting Lyme disease from a tick bite? Scientists say outdoor enthusiasts who live in highly affected parts of the country have up to a 50% chance of getting bitten and subsequently becoming infected with Lyme disease! I don’t know about you, but those odds are much higher than I would have guessed. Whether you’ll get Lyme disease depends on the species of tick, how long the tick is attached to you, and where the tick came from.
The symptoms of Lyme disease may vary from person to person – and there are a lot of symptoms. Most people affected report running a fever, experiencing ongoing fatigue, and having frequent headaches. In addition, many folks experience chills, body aches, and a general feeling of discomfort. The most obvious Lyme disease symptom is a distinctive red rash that resembles a bull’s eye or ringed oval shape. It will appear at the site of the tick bite but doesn’t usually itch. A subsequent rash may occur anywhere on the body. Lyme disease can also cause joint and muscle pain and/or swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may present a few days after a tick bite but sometimes symptoms may not appear until months or even years after a bite!
Diagnosing Lyme disease
As one RV Travel reader recently pointed out, it can be hard to correctly diagnose Lyme disease:
My wife has had symptoms for 2 months now. She has gone through a barrage of 6 tests and has one to go. She also had the bite rash. Preliminary results suggest she was bitten but the tick may not have been carrying Lyme.
And there’s the issue. Ticks can carry a wide variety of different illnesses. Different tick species carry different diseases. In addition, the symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to many other illnesses. Doctors will often run tests to rule out these other illnesses as a first step. The reason? In the first few weeks after a bite, antibody tests are not reliable. (The body’s immune system hasn’t yet formed enough detectable antibodies.) In the time it takes to get a correct diagnosis, the Lyme symptoms may have worsened or changed.
Any good news?
Actually, yes! Lyme disease is treatable. Doxycycline, Amoxicillin, or Cefuroxime are usually the first-line treatments and are taken as oral antibiotics for seven to 14 days after diagnosis.
The bad news? Sometimes after antibiotic treatments, 10-20% of people continue to experience symptoms. This “post-Lyme disease syndrome” can last for months or even years and can affect mobility and cognitive functions. Medical experts still don’t know why this happens to some folks but not to others.
What can I do?
You can lower your Lyme disease risk by:
- Wearing long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts when hiking, etc.
- Using head protection (ticks are difficult to see in your hair)
- Applying insect repellent with 10% DEET (remember to reapply every two hours; do not apply to young children’s hands or the faces of babies)
- Always check yourself and family members for ticks after outdoor activities (it takes 36 hours for the tick to transmit the bacterium)
- Use tweezers to remove ticks (grab tick from its mouth/head and pull gently (do not twist); be sure to completely remove all parts of the tick). This is the best device to remove ticks.
- Contact your healthcare provider if bitten (they may want to identify/report the species so keep the tick once you pull it off you).
Read more about ticks here (including where they’re located, how to identify them, DIY and natural prevention methods, and more).
The tick-twisters work GREAT! There are several different brands out there but they basically do the same thing and are very similar! On a recent (including late spring and early summer) 6 month journey that included time in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Mississippi, my wife and I picked up 14 ticks between us! All of them were caught early and were removed using various methods. After acquiring a set of the tick-twisters, the removal was easy and quick! I HIGHLY recommend keeping a set in your rig if you frequent tick-infested areas!
The bullseye rash is only one of a variety of rash forms. This link to the CDC shows a variety of potential rashes that may indicate Lymes. I say “may” because my father had the bullseye rash at the site of a deer tick bite, but never developed the disease…at least not from the time of the bite in his 60’s until his death at age 93.
Also, permethrin on clothes is one of the VERY best tick sprays. Do not spray it directly on skin. I’ve read the military testing on this stuff and in some ways it’s just slightly less scary than a tick bite! Things like they had to move testing sites frequently as there were no ticks left in the area of testing! :-0
Where I live in SE Minnesota you can brush off deer ticks by the dozens in spring if in thick woods.
I think I commented on this before. The chances of getting Lyme’s disease when bitten y a tick is incorrectly stated as 50%. They could be as high as 50% but not flatly 50%. The facts are in the info below copied form a report by a noted epidemiologist: “says Thomas Mather, a professor of public health entomology at University of Rhode Island and the director of Tick Encounter, a free service that connects tick-bite victims with tick experts. Mather estimates that ticks bite millions of Americans each year, but only 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention annually.
How do you know if your particular bite represents a high-risk case?
As it turns out, the chance of catching Lyme disease from an individual tick ranges from zero to roughly 50 percent, according to Mather. The exact probability depends on three factors: the tick species, where it came from and how long the tick was feeding.”
Thank you for posting this info.
I had late stage Lyme disease in 1999-2000. Never had the tic bite or any bulls eye. Doctors verified diagnoses through blood test. Dr thought I got it from field dressing a deer. Had med port and injected clafforin. Antibiotic. Two years of hell.
I have had Lymes and I would not wish it on my worst enemy.
50% is a gross exageration!
The odds are “up to 50%” depending on what part of the country you live in. For most of us it’s a LOT lower! The NE is fairly high. And importantly: HOW LONG BEFORE YOU REMOVE THE TICK!
See the link in Scott R. Ellis’ reply below.
In Calif we are just catching up on this Lyme Disease business.
Check “Bay Area Lyme Foundation “ for West Coast information. Most Lyme Disease information is written for East Coast and Midwest.
I have had many Ticks and I disagree with the tool recommended, my favorite BEST TOOL IS “THE ORIGINAL TICK KEY” (Amazon of course) Bloody expensive for what it is but works the BEST of all I’ve tried. We have them readily available in the cars and around the house. Scary business this disease, my Daughter has it and indeed it has affected her mentally. Nymphs are so small you can hardly see them. (bleeped by filter, not by Diane, BTW)
Don’t forget permethrin spray for your clothing.
If you don’t get lyme disease you might get Alpha-gal syndrome which makes you allergic to meat from 4 legged creatures. My sister had it for about 5 years and on a whim last year tried beef again and had no reaction. They say this can happen but if you get it again it will be permanent.
Our daughter was bitten by a tick several years ago and now she has so many allergic reactions to any kind of meat except poultry and fish. Plus most milk products.
Lyme disease if untreated can cause heart damage and dementia. I had a friend who died from complications of the heart caused by untreated Lyme disease. Another who was treated but not before cognitive and heart problems occurred. For both it took years before doctors finally diagnosed them with Lyme disease. Thankfully doctors are becoming more aware.
When removing a tick it is best to use a technique which does not squeeze the body of the tick because that results in expressing the tick contents into your body which then transfers the disease carrier(s).
So grasp the tick by the head and not the body no matter what device you use.
Also, do not apply heat to the tick to make it back out. While that technique is effective, it also causes the tick to express its contents into your body which is not desirable.
I have always used fingernail polish, since the tick buries it head in the skin it’s breathing tube is located in its back side. If you “paint” it’s back side with nail polish or some other type of fluid that solidifies the tick will back out to find out why it can’t breathe allowing easy removal. Old wives tell true tales once in a while. Lol
What an awful headline! I hear you’re getting a new editor, and BOY do you need one. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20374651
Thank you for supplying the link to Mayo Clinic. It appears you live the concrete jungle where ticks and wild life are not common – for us out here in Mn, ND, Mt et al, we have an abundance of deer, mice and other wildlife which carry ticks from leaves-woods to humans – and we walk in the woods and in grass – for recreation, bird watching, mowing, hunting or for whatever reason, sso we pick them up too! The statistic is not an exaggeration – it if meant to alarm and get your attention to a growing problem – and the risks are increasing annually. Your comment on the Rv Travel Editor is evidence of your lack of understanding.
Our last trip camping our 3 yr old granddaughter had a tick on her back. We had the tick removal tool you said is the best, but it didn’t work at all. Tweezers worked.
Your headline is a wild scare-mongering exaggeration. Read this, or any of a large number of articles turned up by a simple Google: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/07/24/631814695/ticks-and-lyme-disease-3-factors-determine-risk-of-infection
Yes, thank you for supplying the link.
Yep, gross exaggeration, The author should stick with articles about how to use shower caps.