Last year amidst a global pandemic we were made aware of a particularly frightening threat on the west coast of the US…murder hornets.
Some feared, some took appropriate precautions, and in true internet fashion, some stuck to meme making in dealing with the potential threat.
Then, as warmer temps approached this year, specific parts of the country geared up for another (less lethal) insect invasion, the 17-year brood X cicadas.
And, as if we hadn’t met our creepy-crawly quota yet with those two contenders over the last few years, there’s yet another concern crawling out of the insect world (arachnid, actually) threatening potential harm to all those who love the outdoors.
Yes, the tick population, as our title foretells, has been rapidly growing in the US!
And unfortunately, certain kinds of ticks can transmit disease-causing bacteria to those they bite, pets and humans alike.
In other words, this is a huge heads-up for pet owners and those who enjoy time spent outdoors in the spring and summer months!
So, what can you do to prevent tick exposure and bites.
What should you do if you’ve been bitten by a tick?
And, what lyme disease signs and symptoms should you look out for if you have been bitten by a tick?
We’ll give you the info on each of those topics, but first, why are ticks becoming a greater concern here in the US?
Growing Tick Population
Did ticks hitch a ride on the backs of the giant murder hornets?
Have they emerged from a 17 year deep-earth dig similar to the cicadas?
Obviously, no, neither of those are valid answers. So then, what’s with the uptick (pun intended) in the tick population this year in the US? Researchers have a few theories…
First, the cases of lyme disease are not only increasing in number but in location as well.
While the northeastern areas of the United States were the traditional areas where lyme disease was prevalent, states like California and those located in the midwest are also seeing rises in cases of the disease now as well.
One theory on the rise of lyme disease in these areas, ultimately meaning an increase in the tick populations of these regions as well, is that this increase can be linked to changes in the climate.
Researchers believe global warming has contributed to climates in these areas that are more favorable for ticks, though the two-year life cycle of ticks admittedly makes such conclusions difficult to be firmly reached.
Another theory is that an increase in construction has led us to venture into wooded, tick-filled environments causing greater instances of lyme disease.
And thirdly, some researchers have attributed the spike in cases of lyme disease to measures put in place by the recent pandemic, citing social distancing measures have led folks “outdoors and caused them to engage in activities that would expose them to tick bites.”
But, while lyme disease can be a serious illness, if it is caught early on, it is easily treatable.
And, since we’re certainly not advising anyone to avoid being in nature, let’s look at some things you can do to prevent tick bites and lyme disease.
How To Protect Yourself From Lyme Disease
If you plan on spending time outdoors in nature (especially in grassy or wooded areas), there are some key things you can do to protect yourself from lyme disease.
If possible, avoid those areas with high grass and heavily wooded areas where ticks are most often found.
Ticks move slowly, and they can’t jump or fly. However, as they rest on the ends of leaves and grass, when you walk through those areas, they can then latch on to your skin or clothing as you pass through.
If you are in an area that has marked trails or paths, stick to the center of the trails to avoid potential contact with ticks.
2- Check Yourself
As ticks are most active between April and September, when spending any time outdoors in the spring and summer months be sure to check the following areas closely before coming indoors.
- under your arms
- near your belly button
- around your ears
- the backs of your legs, especially near your knees
- the inner parts of your legs
- in your hair
- around your waist
- all clothing and/or other items you’ve had outdoors with you
3- Check Your Pets
If you have an indoor/outdoor pet, be sure to check your pet for ticks as well before they come indoors as they can bring them into your home and onto your furniture.
And, talk with your veterinarian about using products that can repel ticks and other insects from your pet. (While there are over-the-counter products claiming to provide tick prevention, some pets (cats in particular) are extremely sensitive to the chemicals in these products, so speaking with your vet before using any such products is highly advised.)
4- Use Insect Repellents
Before venturing outdoors in areas where ticks are common, use an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET.
It is recommended to find a product that contains 30-35% DEET and apply the product every 4-6 hours.
While the EPA has approved the use of DEET for people of all ages, this product has been known to cause irritation in some, so if you’re looking for a product to repel ticks without DEET, you can also search for products containing the following repellents:
- oil of lemon eucalyptus
Be sure to always follow product instructions when using a repellent, and avoid contact with your hands, eyes, and mouth. When using such products on children, it is best if parents apply the repellent.
If you’re using sunscreen as well, be sure to apply the sunscreen first, then use the insect repellent.
And, if you’re unsure of which product would be best suited for you and your family, the EPA has an online research tool to help you choose appropriate options for you and/or your loved ones.
You can also use repellents to treat both your clothing and any other items you may be carrying with you in tick-prone areas (such as backpacks, camping gear, or cloth work related items).
Products containing .5% permethrin are recommended for treating shirts, boots, socks, pants, and other gear.
5- Keep Ticks Out Of Your Yard
There are also some things you can do to ensure your own yard is less likely to become a tick hotspot.
- Be sure to trim any tall grassy areas that may border your property.
- Use gravel or wood chips to create a barrier (3 ft is recommended) between your yard and any neighboring wooded areas. You can also use these items to create a barrier around playground equipment and patios to keep ticks away from frequently used portions of your property.
- Keep your lawn mowed frequently and any leaves raked to avoid ticks.
- Keep any wood piles away from your home as these can be a haven for rodents that ticks feed upon.
- Keep playground equipment and patios in a sunny location as ticks generally can not survive in sunny areas.
- You can also have your yard treated with tick pesticides to avoid them, however, it is important to note that this method isn’t a cure-all and can not guarantee that you won’t be bitten or infected by a tick bite.
What To Do If You’ve Been Bitten By A Tick
If you find that a tick has attached itself to your body, you should remove it as soon as possible.
The CDC recommends removing a tick in the following way:
- First, using clean, fine tipped tweezers, grasp the tick. *You want to be sure you are grasping the area of the tick that is closest to your skin for proper removal.*
- Using steady and even pressure, pull the tick upward. Be sure you do not twist or turn the tick, only pulling upward in an even motion to avoid causing the tick’s mouthparts to break off and remain in your skin.
- If the mouthpart does break off, try to remove them with the tweezers. If you can’t remove them with ease, leave them there and allow the skin to heal.
- Once you have removed the tick, clean the bite area (and your hands) thoroughly with alcohol, soap, and water.
- To dispose of a live tick, you can either flush it down the toilet, wrap it firmly in tape, put it in alcohol, or close it in a sealed bag or container. Do not attempt to crush a tick with your fingers or hands.
There are a few old wives tales regarding tick removal, such as using heat, nail polish, or petroleum jelly to cause the tick to remove itself from the body. The CDC does not recommend any of these methods, but rather safely and effectively removing the tick as quickly as possible to avoid transmittance of bacteria that may cause lyme disease.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
Lyme disease is an illness caused by bacteria that is transferred to a person via a bite from an infected tick. It is typically transmitted from black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks.
If bitten, the longer a tick is attached to your skin, the greater your risk is of contracting lyme disease.
So, here’s what to look for if you have been bitten…
A bite from a tick usually produces a small, red bump that disappears in a day or two.
The bite alone does not indicate lyme disease. In fact, it may take up to a month for symptoms to surface.
Ultimately, symptoms can vary depending on how a person’s body reacts to the bacteria. And, individuals can experience these symptoms anywhere from 3 to 30 (or more) days after being bitten.
The following are common symptoms of lyme disease:
- pain and/or swelling in joints
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle and body aches
- neck stiffness
- difficulty concentrating
- difficulty sleeping
But, the most common symptom of lyme disease is a flat, red, circular (or oval) rash that appears at or near the site of the bite. Generally the rash feels warm, but it is not painful.
Nearly 70-80% of people infected with lyme disease experience this, often deemed, tell-tale rash.
Left untreated, lyme disease symptoms can worsen resulting in:
- severe joint pain
- a rash that develops on other areas of the body (similar to the classic lyme disease rash described above)
- weakness or numbness in limbs
- inflammation on the brain
- temporary facial paralysis
Less common symptoms that could potentially develop even weeks after infection include eye and liver inflammation, heart palpitations, and severe fatigue.
It is important to note that a disappearance of symptoms does not always mean that the disease is gone. As untreated lyme disease can cause greater harm to your body, always contact a physician if you have been bitten by a tick and are experiencing any symptoms of lyme disease.