It’s Tick Season: Here’s What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

Warmer spring weather may be tempting you and your family to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors—but just remember that if you’re out on the trails (or even hanging out in your own backyard) it’s important to regularly check for tick bites. Late spring is the prime time for Lyme disease and other tick-borne ailments, and more cases are being spotted in Indiana. In fact, according to the CDC, Lyme disease is the fastest-growing vector-borne infectious disease in the U.S., affecting more than 300,000 people a year. Here, we separate facts from fiction.

You can usually spot the tick that bites you: FALSE

Fewer than 50 percent of patients with Lyme disease recall getting a tick bite, according to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society. That’s because deer ticks, the organisms that carry the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) which causes Lyme disease, are extremely tiny. “Often, about the size of a poppy seed,” explains Durland Fish, Ph.D., a microbiologist and national scientific advisor for the American Lyme Disease Foundation. And if the bite occurs on an area such as your lower back or neck, spotting it can be extremely difficult.

If you remove ticks quickly enough, you won’t be at risk for Lyme disease: TRUE

To infect its host, a tick must typically be attached to the skin for at least 36 hours, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA). So, don’t panic—if you spot a tick even a few hours after you’ve been outdoors, you’re probably safe.

You need to remove the whole tick from your body: FALSE

Some ticks are definitely easier to remove than others, says Fish, and those that cause Lyme disease can be especially tricky to get out since parts of their mouths will often remain in the skin. Luckily, you don’t need to get the entire tick out, he notes. “Once you remove the main body, the rest of the mouth parts that may be embedded in the skin won’t typically allow the bacteria to be transmitted,” he notes. Use a pair of fine-pointed tweezers and grasp the tick from the side where it meets the skin.  Gently pull the tick off, getting as much as possible. Then, apply some topical antibiotic cream to prevent the area from getting infected.

You’ll know you have Lyme disease if you develop a bull’s eye rash: FALSE

This telltale rash around the bite site typically only appears less than half the time in cases of Lyme disease, says Alan Barbour, M.D., and a national scientific advisor for the American Lyme Disease Foundation. It can take anywhere for the rash (which can look more like a series of rings than a bull’s eye, says Dr. Barbour) from a few days to a couple of weeks for symptoms to begin, and the rash usually isn’t itchy or painful, so it’s easy to miss. Other early symptoms include fever, headaches, fatigue and stiffness in weight-bearing joints like the hips and knees.

Your doctor can tell fairly quickly if you have Lyme: FALSE

It can take up to six weeks for your immune system to develop the necessary antibodies, which means you’ll continue to test negative for Lyme disease until then.  After six weeks, however, the blood test is fairly definitive according to the ISDH.

Lyme disease is curable: TRUE

Most of the time, Lyme disease responds to antibiotics. However, left untreated for the long term, complications can occur, says Dr. Barbour.  

5 Ways To Reduce Your Risk

  1. Stay on the trails; avoid walking in bushy and high grass areas.
  2. When possible, wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts and use insect repellent containing 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin.
  3. Do a tick check: Have a family member or partner check you thoroughly for ticks, especially in areas where they like to hide, like between the toes, under the arms, on the scalp and in the groin.
  4. Take a shower as soon as possible when you come indoors (ideally within two hours, according to the CDC) to wash off and more easily find any ticks that may be crawling on you.
  5. Tumble dry clothes for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks that may remain on clothing.  

— By Alyssa Shaffer