I can say that because I have literally been that girl. Actually I kind of still am that girl as in I want ticks no where near me, thankyouverymuch! I sill would rather wear leggings and be too warm on my bike than get a tick but tick check time, well that’s tonnes of fun. Over the past few years the prospect of getting a Lyme carrying tick in our area when from pretty unlikely to pretty much a coin toss. So there was lots of hype and hoopla in the local media about the dangers of ticks and lyme disease. Then honey’s son bought a property that was pretty much infested with ticks and they started showing up at my mom’s house for the first time ever. Let me tell you all of this had me itching and scratching just thinking about it at home in my pj’s.
So I started looking into it convinced that even though I never ever had a tick on me at the time I was suffering from lyme and lingering lyme symptoms, whatever that was. This was one of those rare times where googling led me to calm down and going “huh, more people should know this.” So that’s what I’m going to share today. Yes, you should be diligent with ticks, prevent them from attaching, take them off fast and lyme is serious, but it’s probably not the end of the world. Since learning and calming I did get a tick on me very briefly last spring. Still alive at the time of posting by the way but I’ll keep you updated. Oh and for the majority of this post I’ll be focusing on North American ticks.
My experience with ticks
In a word limited. Honey’s son bought a house that ad been pretty much vacant and neglected for sure. The property seemed to be fully infested with ticks at first. A walk from the car to the front door sometimes meant that you had multiple ticks on your legs. So at first I avoided going or I wore pants. It turned out the previous owner had old, wet bails of hay under the deck that proved to be a haven for ticks. The property did hold horses in the past. Once he removed those they dropped off dramatically. That and mowing the lawn regularly for two years meant there are no more ticks there now than anywhere else. One day though on got on my neck for about 2 minutes before I brushed it off. My mom realized that her empty lot across from the house was getting thick with them too, so she also started mowing it regularly, problem solved. However I still get a level 5 case of the ickies if I see one, hear about one or even read about one. Ticks are still gross so I still take steps to prevent them to attaching to me.
I’m not a hypochondriac or convinced in any way that I’ll be the one in a million with health issues or the lottery but when it came to lyme I was more freaked out than average. I think it’s just the idea that ticks in my area mostly have lyme, you get a tick you get lyme and you probably don’t notice. Then when you do you’re sick for months after. Tuns out literally none of that is true!
Why Lyme isn’t the big deal you might think
Poke around the internets and you’ll see posts telling you what a tick nest looks like and telling you to burn it. Probably don’t do that because you know, forest fires and stuff. You’ll also find lots of fear mongering stuff. But you’ll also find lots of good calming facts. Facts like:
- Most species of ticks don’t carry lyme in most areas it’s only one species representing the minority of the actual ticks out there.
- Most ticks where I live are dog ticks (deer ticks are also common) while only blackgegged ticks can transmit lyme. Know your ticks or bookmark a good site with pictures of ticks in your area.
- Not all backlogged ticks even carry lyme
- Even a tiny tick can’t get through the weave in clothing.
- A tick has to be attached and feeding for 24 hours or more before it can even transmit the infection.
- Ticks don’t burrow all the way into the skin, just their mouth parts so parts of them stick out and are easier to spot. You can usually feel them if they are attached.
- They increase in size as they feed so a tiny tick will get more noticeable as they feed. Also only adult females feed I think. The internets was divided on this one.
- The application of DEET containing insect repellant is effective in preventing the attachment of ticks and mosquitoes from biting. So if you’re spraying exposed skin you’re covered. There is another insecticide available but it can only be used on clothes.
- It usually takes a while to attach as they tend to seek out the perfect spot. Their favorites are armpits, groin and backs of the knees. Eww gross but those are areas you’re either looking at or feeling (deodorant) every day or they are easy to check.
- Most people actually do develop that bullseye rash from lyme (50-80%) or at least redness at the sight of the tick (80%).
- Symptoms are noticeable but minor and won’t clear up until you’re treated. They include:
- Rash (sometimes shaped like a bull’s eye)
- Aching muscles and joints
- Swollen lymph nodes
- After a while you will notice these things are happening and go to the doctor even if you never notice the tick.
- It’s only 1% -3% of tick bites from infected ticks that end up transmitting lyme.
- Ticks can be tricky to remove and you can accidentally knock off the mouth parts in the process. But trust me you will be so freaked out you’ll be obsessing on the site and notice the black dot! Once you do there is no way you’ll be leaving that in there! Plus removed mouth alone can not transmit the disease.
- There are some more serious complications if left untreated but they are exceedingly rare and resolve after treatment like,
- Severe headaches
- New skin rashes 15%
- Facial paralysis (such as Bell’s palsy) 7.5%
- Irregular heart beat 7%
- Joint pain
- Nervous system disorders (such as dizziness, confusion or inability to think clearly, and memory loss, nerve pain, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet) 12%
– Some people do have lingering symptoms after treatment but that’s also rare and clear up within 6 months. Usually tiredness and joint pain and is not considered to be debilitating. 5%
Treatment for lyme
Here’s the thing even if you’re in the unlucky 2% all you need to do is get diagnosed and take some light duty antibiotics. Then you’ll get better. Usually people take oral antibiotics for about 4 weeks and have no further symptoms. If needed this first course of antibiotics can be followed up with a second course of IV antibiotics. Not so scary right?
The best way to deal with ticks and lyme disease (as well as the ick factor) is to avoid the attachment of ticks in the first place. Ticks tend to hang out in undisturbed areas with tall greenery and leaves on the ground. Keep covered in these areas and tuck your pants into your boots, and your shirt in. If you spend lots of time in these sorts of areas you might want to buy a tick suit! Deet containing repellents are fairly effective in preventing the attachment of ticks and light colored clothes means you can spot them more easily and shake them off before going into the house. Along the same vein check pets that might drag them in. Ticks can’t fly or jump or rematierailize onto you over great distances. Rather they wait on the edges of plants and sort of drop onto you, technically this is called questing and it has nothing to do with video games. Keeping your grass short and walking along the middle of the path reduces the risk of this sort of dropping. Quick poll: which is worse dropping ticks or bird droppings on you? I think I’d rather bird poo! When you get indoors search your body for ticks thoroughly or have someone else help you. See there’s one part of ticks that can turn into something fun! You can’t always feel a tick bite so tick checks are a have to. If you do find one experts recommend taking the super effective super convenient methods of just flushing it down the toilet. Ticks are most active in the late spring and early fall but they can be active year round in the summer and warm winter days too. So stay diligent!
How I feel now
While I still don’t want one on me and I definitely don’t want lyme I’m way less freaked out than I used to be. Getting a tick probably means you won’t get lyme and even if you do chances are you’ll notice and with some regular strength antibiotics it will likely be gone within the week. Even if I end up with the rare post lyme syndrome it’s a lot like mono or half marathon training for a few months, I’ll deal! I used to dress up completely and avoid my favorite 10k route during tick season which has about 100m of a well worn path through the woods. Now I just dust off my legs and check carefully when I get home.
Okay so glad I’m done writing this now since thinking about ticks this long makes me super itchy! Where do you land on the tick-lyme freak out scale? Any less freaked now?
PS the information for this post comes from reputable sources, mostly government websites. When reading about ticks and lyme consider the source before taking information as gospel!