|Photo by: U.S. Department of Agriculture (flickr)|
First, a personal aside: I understand that tick-borne disease isn’t most people’s favorite thing to read about, and it wouldn’t typically be my first choice for a writing topic. In fact I never thought about it, or knew about it, until a friend of mine discovered, too late, that she had been afflicted. She now has to deal with joint pain and stiffness, heart palpitations, and short-term memory loss; although her outlook remains staggeringly positive despite being unable to enjoy her previously active lifestyle, and occasionally finding familiar words missing from her vocabulary. Years passed, and we unfortunately fell out of touch. But after hearing about this year’s rise in infections I was reminded of her condition, and decided that spreading information to arm others against it was worthy of a blog entry.
Ticks come in a variety of species, all of which are potential carriers of harmful bacteria. However, Blacklegged Ticks, sometimes called Deer Ticks, are the almost exclusive carriers of Lyme Disease. Although Deer Ticks inhabit most of the eastern half of the United States, 95 % of infections occur within the northern half of that range. While residents of the northeastern quarter of the United States are by far the most at risk, others still have reason for some amount of caution. Cases have been reported nationwide and in Europe, and the disease’s territory continues to spread.
Ticks aren’t born with the bacteria which causes Lyme disease, but acquire it from rodents and birds. Only ticks that move from animal to human hosts are threats. White-footed mice are the most common transmitters, and a surge in their populations during 2016, along with the ongoing wave of unseasonably warm weather, have disease experts worried. Usually, a Deer Tick won’t have time to pass the bacteria to a human unless they’ve been attached for at least a day and a half, but unfortunately they often go undetected because they are so small and often hide in scalp, armpit, or body hair. Most infections come from immature nymphs, since they are roughly the size of poppy seeds and are active during the spring and summer months, when more people are outside. Older ticks, which grow to about 5 millimeters and can thrive during cooler months, are responsible for fewer cases.
Wooded areas with tall grass and vegetation (especially in the northeast) are natural Deer tick habitats. Anyone who visits these locations should consider taking the following precautions:
- Wear long pants and socks that reduce your areas of exposed skin
- Wear insect repellent
- After returning indoors, bathe or shower as soon as possible
- Adults should carefully inspect their hair, as well as any other potential hiding places such as behind knees and ears.
- Children and pets who play in these areas should also be looked over.
Left unchecked, the rashes and joint pain will worsen, affecting more areas of the body. Other late-stage symptoms include facial palsy, headaches, short-term memory loss, heart problems, dizziness, and nerve pain. Luckily, doctors can identify the disease with a blood test, and if done quickly enough, they can then prescribe antibiotics which can completely eradicate it from a person’s body.