When the weather is warm lots of folks like to walk barefoot in the grass or stroll in woods, and that's where ticks like to hang out — in tall grass, thick brush and wooded areas. Tick-borne diseases are found in many areas of the country and they are on the rise. Rocky Mountain spotted fever occurs mainly in the mid-Atlantic and southern states while Lyme disease is most common in the northeast and upper midwest sections of the country.
More than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the U.S. every year and many go unreported. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 300,000 Americans get Lyme disease each year.
Ticks are tiny-8-legged creatures that can be hard to see. Deer ticks, which carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, are especially small. The young "nymphs" are about the size of poppy seeds and the adult deer ticks are not much larger. Despite its size, a tick can cause big trouble if it bites you.
According to Dr. Adriana Marques, a Lyme disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, "Ticks can be so tiny that most people who get Lyme disease don't recall a tick bite. But the earlier you get treated the better."
The symptoms of tick-borne diseases include fever, headache, muscle or joint pain and extreme fatigue. People with Lyme disease usually get an expanding red rash that resembles a bull's-eye. "The rash is usually tender, not painful or itchy, so people may not realize they are sick," said Dr. Marques. If left untreated, the infection can spread and cause rashes in other parts of the body and might even lead to nerve problems, arthritis or other disorders. However, most people fully recover after treatment with antibiotics even if the Lyme disease isn't caught until later stages.
Among the suggestions for warding off ticks are the following:
- Wear long sleeves, long pants and long socks when in wooded or grassy areas.
- Use an insect repellent that contains at least 20% DEET for the skin or permethrin for clothes.
- To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and steer clear of tall vegetation.
- If you've been in an area where ticks are common, bath or shower as soon as possible and check your body carefully for ticks. Then wash or tumble your clothes in a dryer on high heat.
To remove a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers. Grab the tick close to the skin and gently pull upward to remove the entire tick. After removing the tick, clean the bite area and wash your hands thoroughly. Don't use home remedies like petroleum jelly, nail polish or a lit match to try to detach ticks. If you develop a fever, severe headaches or a rash within weeks of removing a tick, see a doctor.