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Summer ticks and Lyme disease

Ticks are most active in late summer through the fall. The nasty bloodsuckers can carry Lyme disease, a bacterial disease transmitted by infected ticks. It was first recognized in the United States in 1975 after a mysterious outbreak of arthritis near Old Lyme, Connecticut. Since then Lyme disease has been much researched.

Ticks are prevalent in wooded and deep grassy areas. Adults ticks can be difficult to spot and are about the size of a sesame seed. Immature ticks can be the size of a pin head. There are many different tick species found throughout the world but only a select few bite and transmit disease to humans.

Infected ticks transmit Lyme by staying attached to the host for 24-48 hours, allowing the bacteria to enter the host’s blood stream. Unless you’re on the lookout for ticks on your body, you may not even know you’ve been bitten. Being so tiny, the ticks are hard to see. And the bite is hard to feel.

Deer ticks infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease have been reported in the northeastern United States (from Massachusetts to Maryland), northern California, and north central states, especially Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, Lyme disease has been reported in almost all states in the United States as well as in many countries throughout the world.

Deer ticks acquire the bacteria by feeding primarily on small mammals infected with the bacteria, particularly the white-footed mouse.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Signs and symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another and are dependent upon the length of time a person has been infected. A ring-like red rash often referred to a ‘bullseye’ occurs in about 70 – 80 percent of cases and begins from three to 32 days after the bite of an infected tick. The red rash at the bite site is circular and grows larger over a few days or a few weeks. In the center, the rash usually clears and has been described as resembling a bull’s-eye. Generally, the rash is not painful. Often this rash is accompanied by one or more nonspecific symptoms: fatigue, chills and fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and joint and muscle pain.

Domestic animals such as dogs and horses can become infected with the Lyme disease bacteria and develop arthritis.

If you experience a rash or any unexplained illness accompanied by fever following a tick bite, you should consult your physician and explain that you were bitten by a tick. Lyme disease can usually be treated by antibiotics.

Tips on Avoiding Ticks

It is impossible to tell by sight which ticks are infected so avoiding tick bites is the best way to protect yourself against Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tularemia.

  • When hiking or walking your dog through wooded areas or long grass wear long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, boots or sturdy shoes. Tuck trouser cuffs in socks.

  • Apply insect repellant containing 10 percent to 30 percent DEET primarily to clothes. Apply sparingly to exposed skin (do not spray directly to the face; spray the insect repellant onto hands and then apply to face. Avoid sensitive areas like the eyes, mouth and nasal membranes). Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors.

  • Walk in the center of trails so weeds do not brush against you.

  • Check yourself, children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks. Most ticks seldom attach quickly and rarely transmit a tickborne disease until they have been attached for four or more hours. If your pets spend time outdoors, regularly check them for ticks, too.

  • Make sure the property around your home is unattractive to ticks. Cut back any long grass.

Removing a Tick

The Centre for Outdoor Disease and Protection contains good information for removing a tick but the most important thing is to remove a tick promptly. Do not burn the tick with a match or cover it with petroleum jelly. Do not use bare hands. The best way to remove a tick is to grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of tissue or cloth or whatever can be used as a barrier between your fingers and the tick. Wash the bite area and your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic to the bite site.

If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.

Facts about Lyme Disease

  • Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the U.S.

  • Lyme disease was the 6th most common Nationally Notifiable disease in 2008.

  • In 2009, 95% of Lyme disease cases were reported from 12 states: infected ticks of the type that transmit Lyme disease are only found in certain states. Click here for a map of reported cases

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