Lyme disease can be potentially fatal, and it is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected deer tick. The tick carries the disease-causing organism, a spirochete, which is injected into the human blood stream while the tick feeds. Because the tick is extremely small, only about the size of a poppyseed, it is very difficult to detect its presence.
Accordingly, people often do not realize they have been bitten. While few people remember the bite, some recall a red, oval rash which usually appears a few days to a few weeks after the bite and is often accompanied by flu-like symptoms. If untreated, the disease can progress and may lead to serious complications such as chronic symptoms similar to those of arthritis, neurological disorders or cardiac problems.
Since Lyme disease can be extremely serious and even fatal, it is important to seek treatment early. Antibiotics are usually prescribed although specific treatment is up to each patient’s physician. In order for the deer tick to survive and spread the disease, it needs the help of host animals such as the white-tailed deer and white-footed mouse which are the primary carriers of the Lyme disease organism.
One of the most important ways to control the spread of Lyme disease involves decreasing contact with the host animals. Fences are the most logical approach to limiting contact with white-tailed deer. However, there are numerous ways to avoid contact with white-footed mice, whose role in the disease cycle should not be underestimated. Infected rodents and their ticks can readily find their way into homes and storage areas where ticks may disengage from their hosts and then attach to a human.
To avoid rodent contact as much as possible, you should take the following precautions. In the outdoors, especially around the house, clear away any potential nesting sites like wood piles or tall grass. Also, cover potential food sources like open garbage pails, bury unharvested crops and be sure any pet food is securely stored. Taking preventive steps indoors is also crucial. Parasites such as ticks can live on dead mice, so using traps and glue boards which require contact to dispose of dead or injured rodents, can be potentially hazardous.
In addition to avoiding contact with animals that may carry the ticks, there are additional precautions people should take. These include wearing long pants tucked into socks and long-sleeved shirts when walking outside in areas that may harbor ticks. Using insect repellent and carefully inspecting your body for ticks after returning home also helps. It’s wise to check pets daily for ticks by standing them over a light-colored cloth and brushing the animal’s coat. Putting a tick collar on a dog or cat that spends time outdoors is also a good idea.
In addition to those cases of Lyme disease which have been documented, experts feel that many cases go unreported. Currently, the disease “hot spots” with the greatest concentration of reported cases are in the Northeastern Atlantic Coastal states, the Great Lakes states, Oregon and Northern California, but virtually all states are now involved. People living in these areas are at a higher risk and need to take proper precautions to guard against ticks and their host animals. Because of the potentially serious consequences of Lyme disease, check with your physician if you have any suspicion whatsoever that you may have contracted Lyme disease.