Spending time outdoors, especially in warm, humid climates, exposes people to any number of stinging, pinching, biting pests, from blood-sucking mosquitoes to stinging bees.
But it’s ticks, the small insects found primarily in wooded areas, that are increasingly a cause for concern, experts say.
Ticks spread Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating condition that can lead to immune disfunction, inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, allergies, pain, sleep disorders, and other health problems. Because they’re tiny and leave little or no telltale signs of their bites, it is very important to be vigilant when spending time outdoors.
Here are a few things to know in order to stay safe this summer:
- Lyme disease is generally transmitted to people through the bite of a deer tick, and is caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi.
- Lyme is most common in the Northeast United States, northwest California and the Great Lakes region — but it can be contracted in every state and is one of the country’s fastest spreading diseases.
- Medical professionals often rely on the appearance of a telltale rash in a classic “bull’s eye” shape. But some studies and estimates indicate that fewer than 60 percent of Lyme patients ever exhibit or notice a rash of any sort. Other symptoms include headache, memory loss, fatigue, and swollen knees.
- When diagnosed and treated early, Lyme can be cured. If left untreated, Lyme invades the skin, joints, heart, nervous system, and brain, and can lead to long-term disability.
- A little protection goes a long way. Walk in the middle of trails, and avoid sitting on logs or leaning on trees. Wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt, and closed-toed shoes or boots. Wear white or light-colored clothing, and consider applying Deet, which contains toxins but also protects against tick bites.
- After outdoor exposure, check yourself for ticks immediately, and again three days later. Ticks are attracted to warm, moist places, so be sure to check your entire body. Adolescent ticks are the size of poppy seeds and may look like freckles.
For more information, read Experience Life’s previous coverage (“What We Don’t Know About Lyme”) and “Beating Lyme Disease” by Pamela Weintraub.