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Ticks and Lyme Disease, 8 Myths and Tips

2014-05-09 17:27
ticks and Lyme disease

The other day an acquaintance told me she stays away from trees during the spring because she is afraid of ticks and Lyme disease. “The ticks can drop out of the trees into my hair,” she said.

That’s just one of the myths that circulates about deer ticks and Lyme disease. Ticks do not drop out of trees, nor do they fly, leap, hop, run, or jog. However, doesn’t mean they can’t get into your hair, because they can, but they crawl to reach that destination.

According to the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center (which offers a wealth of information on tick identification, removal, diseases, lifecycles, and preventive tactics), ticks crawl up toward the head, neck, and ears because the skin is thinner in those locations and the insects can get a good blood meal. Even though you may not feel them, ticks crawl from the site where they first latch on (typically the feet or lower legs) up the body.

What are some other myths about deer ticks and Lyme disease and the real story behind each of them? Take a look.

MYTH: Deer ticks transmit disease to people immediately. If a deer tick that is carrying the disease-causing organism does begin to make a meal of your blood, it takes more than 24 hours before the disease will be transmitted. That means if you remove the tick before that time, you can avoid getting Lyme disease. Therefore it’s important for you to check your body for ticks every time you have been outside in grass, weeds, or any wooded areas.

MYTH: Snow and freezing temperatures kill deer ticks. Unfortunately this is not true. Adult deer ticks can be active all winter long, whenever the ground is not frozen or covered with snow. So if you get a few days of slightly warmer weather in the winter, the ticks can be out and about.

MYTH: Lots of different types of ticks can transmit Lyme disease. Only the deer tick (also known as the black-legged tick) or one of its closely related family members can pass along the disease via the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. If you can save the tick that has latched on to you and identify it, you can take the appropriate action. If it is indeed a deer tick, you can chose to have it analyzed at an independent laboratory to see if it carried the bacterium. If you experience any of the symptoms of Lyme disease (see the next myth), see your healthcare provider for treatment.

MYTH: You can feel a tick bite. It would be great if you could, but tick bites are painless. Pulling the tick off of your skin, however, may cause a little twinge. It is important to remove ticks correctly, using needle-nosed tweezers, as shown in the video below. Do not use nail polish remover, a lit match, petroleum jelly, or perfume.

MYTH: You will know if you have Lyme disease because you will get a bull’s eye rash. Actually, less than half of people who become infected with Lyme disease get this type of rash. Many people experience a nondescript red rash, blisters, or something that looks like a spider bite or cellulitis. Other symptoms of the disease include aches and pains, chills, fatigue, and fever.

MYTH: A negative blood test for Lyme disease means you don’t have it. In fact, the most common tests for Lyme disease look for antibodies, which the body produces in response to infection. However, if you are tested within 4 to 6 weeks of exposure, you will likely test negative, even if you have the disease, because your body has not had time to produce enough antibodies for detection.

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MYTH: There’s nothing you can do to prevent tick bites. Sure there are. If you live in an area where ticks are prominent and/or you are outdoors a lot, you might consider commercially available tick-repellent clothing. Such clothes are said to keep their tick-fighting abilities through up to 70 washes. You also can treat your regular clothes with tick repellent.

You also can take preventive measures when outdoors, such as wearing socks and shoes, wearing long pants and tucking the legs into your socks, and wearing long-sleeved shirts. Make it a routine practice to check your body for ticks whenever you have been outdoors. Taking a shower within a few hours of being outdoors is a great way to check for ticks.

A new study in Ticks and Tick Borne Diseases reported on how doctors typically manage tick bites and tick borne diseases. A survey of more than 2,000 US healthcare providers across the country was undertaken.

The reviewers found that nearly half (46.8%) of the providers had encountered Lyme disease and 89 percent said they would prescribe antibiotics at the first office visit with or without having a blood test performed.

Read about natural repellents for ticks
The authors concluded that most doctors would treat early Lyme disease promptly, which suggests they are aware of the limitations of laboratory testing for the disease. You can help your doctor and yourself by saving the tick in a jar or between two pieces of clear tape and making an appointment if symptoms occur.

Prime tick season in the northeastern United States is May through August. Be aware of the truth about ticks and Lyme disease and stay safe.

Read about how to treat Lyme disease in dogs

REFERENCES
Brett ME et al. US healthcare providers’ experience with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. Ticks and Tick Borne Diseases 2014 Apr 5
University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Comments

Thank you for helping to spread Lyme Disease awareness. Unfortunately, you are perpetuating myths, rather than dispelling. While the risk of disease transmission increases after 24 hours, you can still contract Lyme Disease with a shorter period of attachment, particularly if the tick was not removed properly. Your statement that only black legged ticks transmit Lyme Disease is absolutely false. Research has clearly shown that Lone Star ticks, an aggressive tick commonly found in the South as well as the Northeast, also transmit Lyme. Dog ticks have also tested positive for Lyme Disease.
Thank you for your comments. However, I do not believe I am perpetuating myths. I got my information from the University of Rhode Island's TickEncounter Resource Center, authored by the professor of public health entomology. According to that source: "The only way to get Lyme disease is by being bitten by a deer tick or one of its 'cousins' found around the world." And: "Lyme disease bacteria take at least 24 hours to invade the tick's saliva." I will do some further investigation.
According to the CDC the Lone Star Tick can cause a similar rash to Lyme Disease, but does not cause the illness. http://www.cdc.gov/stari/disease/