Lyme Disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected black legged tick. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a distinctive “bulls eye” shaped skin rash called erythema migrans. If not treated, Lyme disease can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
Lyme disease was first recognized in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 after an unusual outbreak of arthritis. Lyme disease cases are most frequently in Northeastern and upper Midwest states and rates continue to increase. In 2007, there were more than 300 new cases of Lyme disease in Montgomery County. Public health officials are working with the Parks Department and the County’s Recreation Department to educate the public about Lyme disease and how to prevent it.
The black legged tick (also known as the deer tick) is the most common carrier of Lyme disease. The ticks are usually found in wooded areas or areas with tall grasses and low vegetation.
Ticks have life cycles that last approximately two years. Although Lyme disease can be transmitted at any stage of the life cycle, most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny—about the size of a pinhead—and difficult to see. They feed during spring and summer months.
Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease but they are larger and are more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. Adult ticks are most active during the cooler months of the year.
Ticks crawl on to animals or persons as they brush against them—ticks cannot jump or fly. Ticks found on the scalp usually have crawled there from lower parts of the body. Ticks feed on blood by inserting their mouth parts (not their whole body) into the skin of a person or animal. Ticks are slow feeders—a complete blood meal can take several days. As they feed, their bodies enlarge.
The risk of exposure to ticks is greatest in the woods and in the edge area between lawns and woods but ticks can also be carried by animals into lawns and garden and into the house by pets. Campers, hikers, outdoor works, and others may be exposed to infected ticks in wooded, brushy, and grassy places.
One or more of the following symptoms usually mark the early stages of Lyme disease:
The skin rash appears at the site of the tick bite, usually within three days to one month after the bite of an infected tick. The patch grows larger and as it gets larger, the center of the rash clears giving it a “bull’s-eye” appearance. Multiple rashes may appear. Common sites are the thighs, groin, trunk and armpits. The rash does not itch or hurt and not be noticeable.
Some signs and symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until weeks, months or even years after a tick bite:
Different people develop different symptoms of Lyme disease. Some never develop a bull’s-eye rash and some people develop only arthritis. For others, nervous system symptoms are the only sign of Lyme disease.
If you experience these symptoms and have been in an area that may be infested with ticks, be sure to tell your doctor that you have been in a tick-infested area. If Lyme disease is detected and treated early, symptoms are usually mild and easily treated.
Ticks cannot jump or fly onto humans or animals. They wait on low vegetation and attach to hosts (mice, deer and people) as they walk by. Follow these steps to protect yourself:
Keep ticks off your skin
Perform tick checks
Control Ticks Around Your Home and Community