a person holding a bug

What You Need to Know About Common and Emerging Tick-Borne Illnesses

We all know ticks as creeping, crawling, bloodsuckers, but even worse, they're also major disease carriers. In fact, they're the only known insect to carry Lyme disease, which infects 300,000 new people each year.

For National Lyme Disease Awareness Month, the pest control specialist at Greenix compiled this need-to-know guide about ticks and the most infamous disease they carry.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spread to people through the bite of several types of ticks. The disease gets its name from Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in the U.S.

If diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be cured through antibiotic treatment. However, roughly 10-20% of people diagnosed with Lyme disease will go on to experience post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.

Which Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

Only some types of ticks carry Lyme disease. In the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S., the blacklegged tick can carry Lyme disease. Also known as the deer tick or bear tick, this small parasite appears to have a flat, oval-shaped orange body with eight black legs. If recently fed, it will appear much fuller and darker.

Along the Pacific coast, the western blacklegged tick can carry Lyme disease. These ticks look very similar to the blacklegged tick, with a slightly longer body.

Regardless of the type, ticks generally need to be attached for 36-48 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease bacteria. Many infections originate through a bite from an immature tick. In this stage of development, ticks are called nymphs and can be less than 2 millimeters.

What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

While Lyme disease symptoms can vary from person to person, many people will develop a circular rash around the tick bite. This site, which often develops within 30 days, will be red, raised, and appear like a bull's eye on a dart board.

However, on average 1 in 3 people with Lyme disease will not develop a rash. Other symptoms include chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.

How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

Lyme disease is diagnosed by testing the antibodies found in the blood. These antibodies are created by the body to fight the infection.

Infection with other diseases can result in a false positive, so the Center for Disease Control currently recommends diagnosis be given through at least two positive results through testing. If the first test is negative, no further testing is recommended. However, antibodies may take several weeks to become present.

Lyme disease can be tricky to diagnose because of this, as well as its many similar symptoms to other illnesses. However, early intervention is pivotal. Untreated Lyme disease or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome can include adverse reactions.

These symptoms may include:

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Rashes on other areas of the body
  • Loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face, known as facial palsy
  • Arthritis
  • Severe joint pain and swelling
  • Pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat, known as Lyme carditis
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet

Is Lyme Disease Contagious?

There's never been evidence that any sort of person-to-person contact may transmit Lyme disease to another person. However, Lyme disease acquired during pregnancy may affect the fetus.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease

The easiest way to prevent Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. When entering areas where ticks might be present, like woods or overgrown brush, wear full-length pants, long-sleeve shirts, and closed-toe shoes with socks. Additionally, treat clothing with 0.5% permethrin to deter ticks.

When returning from such outdoor activity, thoroughly check your clothing for ticks. Then, either wash clothes with hot water or tumble dry clothes in a dry on high heat for 10 minutes — longer if the clothes are damp.

Also, carefully examine your gear, pets, and body. Ticks hide in all sorts of nooks and spaces, so make your way through the following checklist in a full-body check.

  • Under the arms
  • In and around the ears
  • Inside belly button
  • Back of the knees
  • In and around the hair
  • Between the legs
  • Around the waist

Can Ticks Carry Other Diseases?

While Lyme Disease is the most common disease associated with tick bites, these parasites can pass on other bacteria causing illnesses including ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and recently emerging babesiosis.

What is Babesiosis?

Babesiosis is a disease of the red blood cells that's caused by the bite of an infected tick and can cause fever, fatigue, GI symptoms, headaches, and more in humans. While relatively rare, babesiosis is an emerging disease that is mostly found in the Upper Midwest and Northeast including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

Can Babesiosis Affect Animals?

Babesiosis in cats as well as canine babesiosis can also threaten the health of your pets and has been reported worldwide with an increase in cases in recent years. Be sure to remove ticks as soon as you spot them and monitor pets for changes in energy levels and appetite.

How to Remove a Tick

When feeding, a tick will bury its whole head underneath the skin of its host. Because of this, removing the whole tick can be somewhat tricky.

To start, be sure to use clean, fine-tipped tweezers. Then, pinch the tick in the tweezers as close to the skin's surface as possible.

Once secure, pull upward with steady pressure. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, which can cause parts of the tick to break off underneath the skin. Dispose of the tick by placing it in alcohol, sealing it in a container, or flushing it down the toilet. Do not crush the tick.

Finally, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, or soap and water. Be sure to observe your symptoms over the following weeks.

Protect Against Lyme Disease and Babesiosis With Greenix Pest Control

As carriers of Lyme Disease, Babesiosis and a host of other pathogens, ticks pose a serious threat to your pets and family. Don't let ticks call your house their home — partner with the service pros at Greenix for the pest control solutions you need. Our dedicated team will spot tick colonies in your yard, remove the pests, and treat against future infestations.

Kick ticks to the curb — contact Greenix to get started today.

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