If you’re a southern resident, you may be wondering if you should be concerned about Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. Ticks feed on blood, so when they feed on a host that is carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the tick becomes a carrier and passes it on to their next host. Here’s what you need to know about the risk of contracting this disease in the south, and how to protect yourself from it:
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium that can be transmitted to humans by species of ticks like black-legged ticks (deer ticks). It is most common in the Northern United States, but there are still occasional cases of Lyme disease reported in the South. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, Lyme disease can lead to several serious health problems such as fatigue, fever, headaches, joint pain, skin rashes, and even neurological issues like Bell’s palsy, a neurological disorder that can cause paralysis in one side of the face.
Cases of Lyme disease are more often reported in the Northeastern and Midwestern states. Lyme disease is not as common in the south due to the differences in tick-host relations. In the south, ticks are more likely to attach to reptiles whereas in the north they attach to rodents and shrews. Ticks carry the bacterium after getting the bacterium spirochetes from infected hosts. Because their southern host of choice tends to not carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, ticks in the south are less likely to carry it.
How to Prevent Lyme Disease
As with any illness, prevention is the best medicine. Because ticks are so small, they can be super hard to notice. They can also secrete an anesthetic in their saliva so when they bite it can go undetected. To prevent tick bites and reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease, some preventive measures you can take are using insect repellent containing DEET, staying out of tall grass and away from shrubs, and wearing long sleeves and pants when outdoors. After spending time outside, make sure to conduct a full body “tick check” on yourself, your loved ones, and your pets! Taking these steps can help keep you safe during activities outside and provide peace of mind.
What to Do if You Are Bit by Tick
If you do have a tick bite, be careful removing it! They can be pretty tricky to remove. Some ticks have barbed feeding tubes that keep them attached. They can also secrete a cement-like substance that keeps them attached until they’re done feeding. Ticks can feed for several days (depending on the species) before dropping off the host and continuing with their life cycle. When removing a tick, make sure it completely comes out and leaves nothing behind. And if you are bitten by a tick, it does not mean you will automatically contract Lyme disease. Whether or not you contract Lyme disease largely depends on the species of the tick and how long it was attached. Most of the time they need to be attached and feeding for 36-48 hours.
The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from Lyme disease, no matter where you live. Be sure to check for ticks after spending time outdoors, and promptly remove any ticks that you find attached to your skin. You can also reduce your risk by using insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants when spending time in areas where ticks are present. By taking these precautions, you can help ensure that you don’t become one of the estimated 300,000 people in the United States who are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year.