Shorts, sandals, and sunglasses may start making their appearance as the sun begins to shine and the weather gets warmer. Rising temperatures can also bring out several biting insects, including ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease. It’s important to be wary of these pests, and protect yourself, your family, and your pets by taking precautions. Alaina James, MD, PhD, UPMC Department of Dermatology, answers common questions about ticks and disease, and keeping your family safe this season.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks, which are related to spiders and have eight legs, can be a variety of sizes (as small as 2 millimeters) and are usually black, brown, or red in color (see image). Ticks live in the woods, on leaves and bushes, and on blades of grass. Ticks stay alive by eating blood from their hosts, including humans. As they move from one host to the next, ticks can transmit infections, one of which is Lyme disease.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that ticks can carry if they bite infected mice or deer. Infected ticks can transmit Lyme disease to you and your pets through their bite. Being outside or around a pet that may carry ticks, or walking in high grasses could put you at risk for tick bites and Lyme disease. Lyme disease is actually more common than people think, which is why it’s important to know the signs and symptoms and ways to prevent contracting it.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
In many cases, a tick must be attached to you for at least 24 hours to contract an infection, and most people who are bitten do not get Lyme disease. If you are bitten, symptoms can begin days or weeks after infection, and they are similar to those associated with the flu. They can include:
- Rash at the bite site (commonly an expanding red circle with a bull’s eye or target appearance)
- General ill feeling
- Muscle or joint pain
- Stiff neck
How can I prevent Lyme disease?
- Avoid high grass and bushy areas, and walk on designated trails
- Wear lightweight, protective clothing when outdoors
- Apply bug repellent with 20-30 percent DEET (active ingredient) to all exposed skin
- Check all body surfaces for ticks, especially the groin and underarm areas
If you think you may have been bitten by a tick and are experiencing symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your doctor immediately. If Lyme disease is diagnosed early, it can typically be treated with antibiotics, and serious, long-term complications can be prevented.