A Guide to Ticks and Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an infection that is caused by bacteria. People get infected when they are bitten by ticks that carry the bacteria responsible for the infection. The infection is called “Lyme disease” because its first major outbreak was witnessed in Lyme, Connecticut. Lyme disease was first noticed in 1975 but the cause of the disease was still unknown at that time. In 1978, it was discovered that people could get Lyme disease when bitten by ticks. Two years later, Willy Burgdorfer found out that B. burgdorferi bacterium was responsible for the disease. Today, most of the Lyme disease infections in the world are found in Canada, Asia, Europe and the United States of America. A lot of work has been done by scientists in finding out more about the causes, signs, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of the disease.

Ticks carry infectious diseases for both man and animals. Ticks usually embed their heads and attach themselves to you, but they can fall off without you knowing you’ve been bit. With ticks that carry Lyme disease, a bite from an infected tick displays a certain kind of skin rash. If you develop the rash, it’s important that you get antibiotic treatment right away because Lyme disease can be painful and debilitating.

Causes of Lyme disease

Three main types of bacteria that cause Lyme disease are Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii. These bacteria have similar characteristics since they all belong to the same taxonomic group known as genus Borrelia. Borrelia burgdorferi the bacteria that is mainly responsible for Lyme disease in the US while Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii are predominant in Europe. These different types of bacteria are transmitted to humans and animals from infected ticks. Humans get the infection from animals when their meat is not properly cooked before consumption. The two types of ticks that carry the bacteria are Deer ticks and Western black-legged ticks. Deer ticks are more common in the North Eastern and Midwestern parts of the US while the Western black-legged ticks are more in Oregon and northern California.

The cause of Lyme disease is a corkscrew-shaped bacterium, a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi. The western black-legged tick, also called the “Deer” tick, transmits the bacteria through its bite. The first case of Lyme disease was chronicled in the town of Lyme, Connecticut in the 1970s and serves as the name for the disease. The deer tick lives across the United States, is hardy and can infect you when it bites.

Risk Factors

Days to weeks after the untreated tick bite, the infection can spread to other areas of the body. When that happens the risk factors go up and other symptoms begin to occur. These symptoms result in additional EM sites on other parts of the body. A person can experience facial or Bell’s palsy resulting in a loss of muscle tone in the face. Other risk factors include increased chance of arthritis, sleep disturbance and the onset of problems with your nervous system.

Signs and Symptoms

The first symptom of a tick bite infected with Lyme disease is a red circular rash around the bite area. This can appear as a solid red rash or a circular rash that is called erythema migrans (EM) on and circling around the bite. Other immediate symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and fever. When you notice this, you must contact your doctor for antibiotic treatment. Antibiotic treatment will stop the bacterial infection that results from a Lyme-infected tick, caught in the early stages. If you get bitten by a tick infected with Lyme disease, and don’t notice the rash, other symptoms include irregular heartbeat and weak limbs.

There are several effects of Lyme disease on humans. It affects the skin, joints and even the nervous system. Some of the symptoms include rash, neurological problems, joint pain and other less common signs. Rash is the first sign of the disease. Rashes start manifesting a few days after an infected tick bites a person. It may be the only obvious sign for several weeks before the person starts feeling pains or flu-like symptoms like fever, fatigue and headache. Rashes appear first as small red bumps at the location of the tick bite but the small red bumps increase in size after a few days. Rash caused by an infected tick is known as erythema migrans and the size is normally an indication of the amount of bacteria in the blood stream. Apart from rashes, severe pains on the knees and other joints may develop after some weeks. Sometimes, the infection also leads to meningitis, Bell’s palsy and impaired muscle movement.

Complications

Other complications that arise from not treating your infection include, neck stiffness, severe headaches and meningitis or inflammation of the spinal cord. You may experience shooting pains in your body or muscles that disrupt sleep, increased dizziness and heart palpitations due to an irregular heartbeat. Severe cases develop into joint swelling, numbness or tingling in the extremities and short-term memory loss.

Common Ticks

The blacklegged tick, or Ixodes scapularis is a common tick found most anywhere in the U.S. It’s also been called a deer tick and is identifiable by its long legs. This tick typically inhabits brushy and woody areas. The tick nymphs feed on small animals such as mice and squirrels, while the adults prefer deer. If you have deer in your area, you are bound to have these ticks. Another common tick, the American dog tick or Dermacentor variabilis commonly inhabits the Eastern part of the U.S. American dog ticks are carriers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and are not as common as deer ticks. The Lone star tick or Amblyomma americanum, distributed throughout the U.S., is also a carrier of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tick paralysis in both dogs and humans. Another common tick, the Groundhog tick, or Ixodes cookie is orange and less common than the three other ticks. It is found east of the Rockies to South Dakota.

Prevention

Preventing tick bites starts with ensuring that you are fully clothed when you venture outdoors into tall grasses, shrubs or bushes. Ticks wait at the end of long grasses to catch a ride on unsuspecting hosts. Wear light-colored clothing when working outdoors and spray on insect repellant on clothing. Walk in the middle of trails and try avoiding brushing up against bushes, grasses or low hanging trees. If you find ticks on your clothes, remove them by balling up a piece of tape and touching the tape to the tick.

Control Ticks Around Your Home

Keep grasses cut short and a sunny area in your yard. Ticks don’t like the sun and wait in shady areas on brush and grasses. Keep your backyard free of ticks by ensuring the grasses are set back from the woods around your home by eight feet. Place a three-foot wood chip, gravel or mulch border area between grassy edges and tick-prone zones. Invite birds that thrive on ticks into your yard by supplying bird food and water.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Some of the symptoms of Lyme disease are the same with the signs of other health disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, fibromyalgia and viral infections. The similarities in the symptoms make it quite demanding to correctly diagnose Lyme disease. As a result, it is not enough to conclude the presence of the disease without conducting a confirmatory test. Some of the important tests to take include Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test, Western blot test and the Polymerase chain reaction test.

The use of antibiotics in treating Lyme disease is common and effective. The types of antibiotics in use include oral antibiotics and intravenous antibiotics. Oral antibiotics are used for treating Lyme disease that is still in its early stage. Examples of oral antibiotics are doxycycline and amoxicillin. Doxycycline is suitable for anyone that is at least nine years old while amoxicillin is good for younger children, nursing mothers and pregnant women. Treatment with oral antibiotics normally lasts between ten and twenty-one days. Intravenous antibiotics are made to cure Lyme diseases that are more pronounced. The drugs are taken between two and four weeks for effective treatment.

Lyme Disease Prevention

Since Lyme disease is caused by ticks, the most important way of preventing the disease is by avoiding any contact with ticks. Some effective ways of doing this include wearing trousers and long sleeves in areas where ticks are present, using insect repellents and bush clearing. Insect repellents are used by applying them on the hands, legs or any exposed part of the body. The major constituent in the repellent is N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) and it is encouraged to use repellents with DEET concentration that is between ten and thirty percent. Ticks should be removed with tweezers instead of bare hands. Pets and the environment should be regularly cleaned to prevent the presence of ticks.

More information on Lyme disease can be obtained through these links:

  • Lyme disease Education: Find out the causes of the disease, how to remove ticks, statistics of Lyme disease infection and other important information.
  •  About Lyme disease Infections: Great site especially for understanding the signs, symptoms and effects of Lyme disease.
  • Lyme disease: The page has several links to more resources that discuss the prevention of the disease and other related topics.
  •  Lyme disease Encyclopedia: Information here includes stages of Lyme diseases, locations where Lyme disease infections can be found, the causes of the disease and more.
  • Lyme disease Fact Sheet: Facts discussed on this page include the definition of Lyme disease, how people get the disease, the symptoms and precautions to take.
  • Overview of Lyme disease: This contains a little history and causes of the disease.
  • Lyme disease FAQ: This page aims to answer questions about the deer tick, the symptoms of the disease in man and how to control ticks on animals. There are other important points discussed on the page.
  •  All about Lyme disease: Find out what causes this disease. There is also information on the symptoms one may feel at various stages of the infection.
  • Things to Know about Lyme disease: This contains basic facts about the disease. There are also links on the page to aid further studies on the subject.
  • Understanding Lyme disease: Learn what Lyme disease is, how it is transmitted, life cycle of the black legged tick, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. 
  • The History of Lyme disease: The page has a timeline of the history of the disease between 1883 and 2002.
  •  Lyme disease in Animals (PDF): Relevant facts on this page include what Lyme disease is and its mode of transmission.
  • Ticks and Lyme disease: Find out more about insect repellants and Lyme disease information.
  • Overview of Lyme Disease – Blacklegged ticks spread Lyme disease, a bacterial infection through their bite.
  • Ticks Adapt to Life on the Prairie – New study shows deer ticks adapt to live most anywhere they are found.
  • Ticks and Disease – Ticks carry many diseases, including Lyme disease, a bacterial infection easily cured by early treatment.
  • What Happens During Lyme Disease – The Lyme Disease rash is apparent and easily identified in these pictures.
  • Preventing Lyme Disease – A guide offered by the New York State Department of Health on preventing Lyme Disease.
  • The History of Lyme Disease – The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases provides the history of Lyme Disease.
  • Identifying Ticks – Pictures and descriptions of ticks provided by the state of Pennsylvania.
  • Beware of Ticks – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Department provides insights into problems that are caused by ticks.
  • Tick-Borne Diseases – Ticks transmit a host of diseases besides Lyme disease.
  • Pesticides for Tick Control – A guide for homeowners from the state of Connecticut on how to control ticks.
  • Safety Tips for Pet Owners – Ticks can also cause diseases in your pets as well as bring ticks into your home. Follow these safety tips for protecting your pets.
  • Creating a Tick Safe Zone – Read this brochure to find how safe your yard is from ticks – and what you can do to make it safe.
  • Tick Control for the Yard – The pesticides that are harmful for your home and pets.
  • Prevention and Control of Lyme Disease – Avoid bushy and woody areas, wear long sleeve shirts and check your pets after traipsing through the woods.
  • Guidebook on Tick Control – A guide to understanding how to control and prevent ticks.  
  • Diseases from Ticks – References and links from the California Department of Health on protecting yourself from ticks and tick-borne diseases.
  • Identification and Prevention – Preventing ticks starts with being fully clothed when outdoors where ticks live.

2 Responses to A Guide to Ticks and Lyme Disease

  1. Greg says:

    Nasty little enemies and they also affect animals in your household I gather
    We may be more lucky living in Arctic climates here in Finland,as I have never seen them here in Helsinki
    The temperature drops to -20C

  2. Jessy Hess says:

    I am a student at Alfred State College and I am taking a microbiology course for my Vet Tech major. I would like permission to use the picture of the tick in the fourth picture from the top on your website for a disease project on Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I will be sure to credit your website in my work if permission is granted.

    Thank you,
    Jessy Hess

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