An old myth is that ticks die during the winter months. The truth is, they go dormant when temperatures drop below freezing. The warmer it gets outside, the more active they become.
Now that Spring and Summer are approaching, it’s time to implement prevention techniques to avoid contracting tick borne diseases like Lyme disease, the most common.
Lyme disease affects thousands of people each year. It seems like the numbers are on the rise, too. The more land developed for office space and housing, the fewer the places ticks have to live. For example, in the past, you could only see deer if you went into a forest. Today, those forests were removed and replaced with housing developments. Now, deer can be seen in the suburbs.
Since deer are among the most common animals to carry ticks, there will be more ticks in the suburbs.
This also means you must protect yourself from ticks not only when you go into the woods but in local neighborhoods and parks, too.
You must do what you can to avoid contracting Lyme disease, which can present serious health effects. The first step is to understand how humans get Lyme disease from a tick.
A Tick’s Outdoor Life
Deer ticks, or black-legged ticks, are the leading carriers of the bacteria Borrelia Burgdorferi. Deer ticks age in three stages. During two of the stages, they attach to animals to feed. In earlier stages, they cling to smaller animals, like birds or rabbits.
In later stages, they attach to larger animals, primarily deer.
Other times they live in tall grassy areas. Ticks do not live in trees and fall onto the heads of humans. Instead, they live on blades of grass. A person picks up a tick when they walk through this grass unprotected.
The tick senses a warm-blooded animal, a human, and because it’s hungry for blood, it grabs onto the exposed body part. If you are lying down in grass gazing at the stars, a tick can access all exposed parts. If you are walking through the grass with flip-flops and shorts, the tick will attach to your feet or lower legs.
Once attached, the transmission of Lyme disease begins.
How Ticks Transmit Bacteria
After finding its way onto a body, the deer tick will find a place to bite. Most people call it biting, but the truth is that the tick breaks the skin’s surface to get to your blood.
Once it reaches a source of blood on your body, it infects you with Lyme disease bacteria.
That bacteria, once in your bloodstream, starts to multiply and move throughout your body. The longer the bacteria remain in your body, the stronger it becomes and the harder it is to eliminate.
Along with Lyme disease, deer ticks can also transmit co-infections.
Transmission of Co-Infections
Co-infections happen with a deer tick carries the Lyme disease bacteria and bacteria of other diseases. Two examples of co-infections are babesiosis and ehrlichiosis.
Babesiosis is an infection caused by babesia, a malaria-like parasite. It infects red blood cells in the body. Symptoms of babesiosis are similar to Lyme disease symptoms. High fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, and joint stiffness are a few examples.
Because they are so similar, babesiosis is often overlooked.
Human monocytic ehrlichiosis is caused by bacteria known as rickettsia. It is an acute infection. There are people, specifically the elderly and young children, who can experience devastating symptoms.
Also, for people with a weakened immune system, symptoms can become life-threatening.
To treat co-infections, you must work with a Lyme-literate doctor to get alternative therapies.
The best way to avoid getting Lyme or any co-infection is to protect yourself and prevent attracting deer ticks in the outdoors. You can start by improving the outdoor environment around your home.
Improve Outdoor Environment
If you look outside to your yard and all you see is overgrown grass, brush, and weeds, then you have created excellent habitat for ticks of all kinds. There are things you can do to change it, though.
Mow your grass and keep your lawn area manicured. If your yard adjoins a wooded area, create a barrier between the two rather than letting them blend. For example, add a deer fence around your garden, so they are not attracted to it.
While it may be fun to watch deer and other wildlife roam into your yard, keep in mind there are possibly deer ticks on them.
Protect Your Body While Outdoors
You don’t have to spend your life avoiding tall, grassy areas. But when you know you will be in them, take extra precautions. Wear pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes that can place an additional barrier between you and a tick. Use sprays that deter ticks. Spray both your clothing and your body.
If you like to hike or run, do so on cleared trails. If you want to play sports, do so on manicured fields. The key is to become more aware of your surroundings and do your best to prepare against attracting a tick.
Protect Your Pets
Even if you don’t spend time outdoors, your pet does. Deer ticks are attracted to all warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, and farm animals. Therefore, you must protect them as well. One of the best ways to protect them, and you, is to do full-body checks.
Ticks move up and down the body in a short time. After being outdoors, it’s essential to check your body for ticks immediately. The sooner you find a tick, the less likely it has had time to infect you or your pet. You can do checks in the shower too, where the water can wash a tick from your skin.
Prevent Tick Borne Diseases
In conclusion, warmer weather is on its way, and being outdoors is so good for mental and physical health. Don’t let the fear of getting Lyme disease interfere. When it comes to tick borne diseases, take prevention seriously so you can enjoy outdoor life often.
Reviewed by Dr. Omar Morales, MD