The CDC calculates that well over 300,000 people get Lyme disease each year. It also estimates that the incidence of Lyme disease is drastically underreported. Many tick-bite victims are uninformed about the tell-tale signs of infection, the seriousness of the illness, or the steps that they could have taken to prevent Lyme disease and its resulting symptoms.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is actually an infection caused by a bacterium— Borrelia burgdorferi. It’s a zoonotic illness, meaning that the bacterium can be transmitted between animals and people. In this case, humans acquire Lyme disease through the bite of a tick infected with the bacterium. Signature symptoms include:
- a telltale bull's-eye rash that typically develops around the bite within a month
- flu-like complaints like fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain and swollen lymph nodes
If left untreated, symptoms can progress to long-term issues like severe headaches, body rashes, facial palsy, joint inflammation, nerve pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, memory problems and inflammation of the central nervous system.
How Ticks Transmit Lyme Disease
Black-legged ticks—also known as deer ticks—serve as the vector allowing Lyme disease bacterium to spread from one warm-blooded host to another. Along the East Coast, the species is Ixodes scapularis while on the West Coast, Ixodes pacificus is responsible.
Not all deer ticks carry the Lyme disease bacterium. Those who do, however, acquire it from infected animals that they have fed upon. Then, they pass the bacterium on to whoever or whatever serves as their next blood meal to continue the cycle:
- Ticks lie in wait on the tips of grass or shrubs, questing for their next victim with their forelegs raised, ready to jump aboard.
- Ticks painlessly attach to the victim by inserting their feeding tube into the skin, often in an inconspicuous spot. Blacklegged deer ticks may feed on a host’s blood for days.
- Once full, the tick will withdraw its feeding tube and drop from the host.
- When the tick needs to feed again, the process repeats, spreading any Lyme disease bacterium that the tick may have ingested.
- Infected host animals may serve repeatedly as hosts to other ticks, likewise continuing the spread of infection.
How To Prevent Lyme Disease
Deer ticks can be tiny and hard to see, with nymphs often measuring less than 2 millimeters. In addition, it is the immature nymphs that are responsible for most Lyme disease infections. Because ticks are so pervasive yet difficult to detect, avoiding Lyme disease requires a consistent, multiprong approach.
- Precautions for People: CDC-suggested guidelines recommend that people bound for the outdoors.
- use appropriate bug repellents
- dress in light clothing offering coverage so that stowaways are more visible
- avoid bushy or overgrown areas
- inspect their bodies carefully for hidden ticks after outings
- Precautions for Pets: Like humans, animals can suffer from debilitating Lyme disease symptoms. Your pet cannot transmit Lyme disease directly to you, but a tick that hitches a ride on it could. Regularly inspect pets for ticks and consult carefully with your vet about tick preventatives and repellents that are safe for your specific type of pet.
- Precautions for Home: Create and maintain a tick-limiting landscape:
- Keep lawns mown and shrubs trimmed
- Remove clutter, discarded items or other debris
- Place recreational areas in sunlight rather than tick-friendly shade and consider adding gravel or mulch barriers to deny ticks access
- Treat outdoor areas with an appropriate pesticide designed to control ticks
Creating an environment discouraging to ticks also limits access to many of the potential host animals that may carry the Lyme disease bacterium: white-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums, rabbits, squirrels, mice and other rodents.
North Carolina’s temperate climate allows ticks to survive year-round. If you would like more information about keeping your family, pets and property tick-free and safe from Lyme disease, State Pest Control is ready to help. We use state-of-the-art technology and eco-friendly pest management practices. Most important, we care about you and your ability to enjoy your home. Contact us today to get a free quote.