As the warmer season approaches, you may be getting ready for your favorite outdoor activities like hiking. However, this is the time when you’re most at risk for tick bites.
The spring and summer are the most prevalent times to get Lyme disease. Most ticks hang out in wooded or grassy areas, so when you go out for outdoor activities, this is when ticks are most likely to latch on to you.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to stay inside and stop doing the activities you enjoy to prevent getting bit. There are ways to prevent tick bites and possible Lyme disease infection so you can enjoy the warm weather. Here is how Lyme disease is actually spread and how to get treatment.
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How Is Lyme Disease Spread?
Lyme disease can be transmitted to humans through a tick bite. It comes from a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, that can infect ticks when they feed off an animal with a bloodborne infection. The tick may ingest the pathogen and become infected, later transmitted to a human when it feeds on them.
Ticks can attach to any part of your body but are often found in areas that are hard to see, such as the armpits, groin, and scalp. In general, the tick has to be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.
Most people get infected through immature ticks called Nymphs because they’re tiny (less than 2 mm). This can make it hard to spot them, unlike adult ticks that are much larger and more likely to be discovered before transmitting the bacteria.
Are Tick Bites Contagious?
There is currently no evidence that shows that humans can transmit the disease to one another. Similarly, dogs and cats can get Lyme disease, but there is no evidence that they can spread it to their owners.
Also, no evidence shows that you can get Lyme disease through the air, food, water, or from the bites of mosquitos, flies, fleas, or lice. Although there are also no cases that show that you can get Lyme disease from blood transfusions, the bacteria can live in blood that is stored for donation. If you are being treated for Lyme disease, you should not donate blood for preventive measures.
What Ticks Can Spread Lyme Disease?
The blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads Lyme disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States. The western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is responsible for spreading the disease on the Pacific coast.
There are a few ticks that are not known for transmitting Lyme disease, such as the Lone star ticks (Amblynomma Americanum), the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus).
How Do Ticks Attach and Transmit Lyme Disease?
Ticks can’t fly or jump, so they rely on the vegetation around them to attach to a host. They’re most commonly found in dense grassy areas that allow them to attach to animals or humans easily.
They will rest on the tips of grasses or shrubs in a position known as “questing.” The ticks will hold onto the leaves or grass with their lower legs and their upper pair of legs outstretched. This allows them to wait until they can quickly climb onto you as you pass and find a suitable place to bite the host.
Depending on the tick species and its stage of life, they can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours to prepare for feeding. Once they’ve found a spot to grasp onto, they will cut into the surface of the skin and insert its feeding tube. Ticks have barbs on their feeding tube that will hold them in place, and many can secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them firmly attached.
Some ticks can secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so the animal or person can’t feel that the tick has attached itself. If the tick has attached itself in a sheltered spot, this can make it harder for you to notice them. A blacklegged tick will attach to its host and suck on the blood slowly for several days. After they’re done feeding, the tick drops off and prepares for its next life stage.
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How to Prevent Infection
Once ticks have been infected with the bacteria, a tick can transmit the infection throughout its life. If you can quickly remove a tick (within 24 hours), it reduces your risk of getting Lyme disease. It takes some time for the bacteria to move from the tick to the host, meaning the longer the tick is attached, the greater the risk of acquiring Lyme disease.
Several preventive measures can help prevent ticks from biting you:
- Avoid Dense Vegetation: If you are considering hiking or camping, it’s important to stay within cleared paths, away from bushy or grassy areas. This is the easiest way for ticks to attach to you if you’re walking through vegetation.
- Wear Protective Clothing: You may also consider wearing protective clothing or gear. You can treat your boots, clothing, and camping gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It will stay on for several washes, or you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
- Use Insect Repellent: Using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- registered insect repellents can also be a great way to ward off ticks. However, be cautious not to use products containing OLE or PMD on children under three years old.
What to do When You Return Inside
Once you return indoors, closely inspect your clothes and body. Ticks can easily be carried into the house on clothes and must be removed immediately. You can wash your clothes with hot water, then tumble dry your clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill the ticks.
It’s also a good idea to shower within two hours of returning indoors. It can reduce the risk of Lyme disease by allowing a thorough tick check. You should also check these areas on you or your child’s body:
- In and around the ears
- In and around the hair
- Inside belly button
- Around the waist
- Under the arms
- Back of the knees
- Between the legs
Tick bites usually appear as a bullseye rash that can be spotted. However, 16% of Lyme disease patients never saw a rash. So, you’ll want to watch out for flu-like symptoms, which are often caused by a Lyme disease infection.
Don’t Forget to Check Your Pet
Ticks can easily hitch a ride into your house by attaching to your pets. Dogs are susceptible to tick bites and tickborne illnesses.
Although cats are extremely sensitive to various chemicals and need the advice of your veterinarian before using tick prevent products, there are many options for dogs. You can choose oral medications, shampoo, tick dip, collars, powders, and sprays to help your dog prevent tick attachment. Make sure to check the following spots for ticks:
- In and around the ears
- Around the eyelids
- Under the collar
- Under the front legs
- Between the back legs
- Around the tail
What Treatments are Available for Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease can sometimes be misdiagnosed since many symptoms are similar to the flu. However, if you know that you’ve been bitten by a tick and start showing signs of Lyme disease, you should get tested and treat the disease in its early stages.
The most common method of treatment includes antibiotics. However, at Premier Health and Holistic Medicine, Dr. Robin Ridinger takes a holistic treatment approach. She wants to address the overall health of your entire body and the interactions of all your bodily systems.
Dr. Ridinger will make an individual treatment plan to fit your needs. Some approaches she may take include:
- Diet and supplements
- Thyroid replacement therapy
- Adrenal support
- Bioidentical hormones
- Herbal therapies
- Antibiotics or antifungals if needed
A holistic approach may be right for you if you don’t want to add new toxins to your body. Through methods like diet and supplements, your body can naturally detoxify.
Although holistic doctors prefer natural treatments, there are instances where an antibiotic or antifungal is required. Dr. Ridinger will prescribe them to you and monitor the result to ensure a healthy recovery.
If you’ve been bitten by a tick and are showing signs of Lyme disease, it’s essential to seek treatment. It’s important to treat it before worsening symptoms appear in the later stages of the disease.
Do you think you might have bitten by a tick? Schedule an appointment for an evaluation. .