More Ticks May Not Mean More Lyme Disease Cases

Armen Hareyan's picture

State of Vermont Entomologist Jon Turmel walked 20 feet along the Connecticut river valley in St. Johnsbury this spring and picked up 30 to 40 ticks on his pant leg. Turmel concluded the tick population in the area was "extreme."

"We usually drag a sheet beside us as we walk in order to see how many ticks jump on it, but in some areas this year all I've had to do is walk around," Turmel said. "I've never seen it like this."

A greater tick population does not necessarily mean that there is an increased risk of becoming infected with Lyme Disease, according to Patsy Kelso, an epidemiologist for the Vermont Department of Health. Lyme disease is only transmitted by the bite of black-legged ticks known as a deer ticks.

Both the Health Department and the Agency of Agriculture have reported a surge in calls from people asking about ticks. Turmel said that early in the spring he saw a few deer ticks, but the predominant tick in Vermont right now seems to be the dog tick.

"It is nearly impossible for someone to visually see the difference between a dog tick or a deer tick," Kelso said, "What's important is that people use common-sense preventive measures like wearing insect repellent, and to know the symptoms of Lyme disease. Even if a tick with Lyme bites you, they usually have to be attached for more than 24 hours before the disease can be transmitted."

The number of reported Lyme disease cases from tick bites in Vermont has nearly tripled in the past two years (29 cases in 2005, 83 cases in 2007). This is likely due to both heightened awareness among Vermonters and the numbers of infected ticks.


The first sign of Lyme disease is often a rash that begins at the site of the tick bite. The rash usually begins 7 to 14 days after the tick was removed, but sometimes takes up to 30 days to appear. Other symptoms of Lyme disease include fatigue, headache, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle and joint pain.

Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, especially if treatment is given early. Left untreated, Lyme disease may affect other parts of the body, including the heart and nervous system.

To prevent exposure to ticks:

* Avoid areas with a lot of ticks. Ticks prefer wooded and bushy areas with high grass and a lot of leaf litter.

* Control ticks around your home. Remove leaf litter, tall grass, and brush. Place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas.

* Keep ticks off your skin. Wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks. Light colored clothing will help you spot ticks more easily. Tuck your pants into your socks.

* Use insect repellent containing DEET or permethrin, following the instructions on the label. Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks daily and carefully and promptly remove ticks.

Ticks usually need to feed for at least 24 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease, so daily tick checks and prompt removal of ticks can prevent infection.