Ticks and Lyme Disease, 8 Myths and Tips
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.