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Deer Ticks and Lyme Disease

 

In the last decade or so, Lyme Disease has become common in many parts of the United States. This potentially debilitating disease is carried by the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) in most of the United States, and by the Western Black-Legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) in the states along the Pacific coast.

Deer Tick photo courtesy of US-CDCDeer ticks are tiny arachnids about the size of a pinhead. They aren't insects: Ticks have eight legs as adults, whereas insects, by definition, have six legs.

The image on the right shows an adult female deer tick, followed by an adult male, a nymph, and a larva, on a centimeter scale.

 

Borrelia burgdorferi photo courtesy of US-CDC Deer ticks carry the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme disease. Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria are spirochetes (helical, or coil-shaped bacteria) that are transmitted to humans by the bite of infected deer ticks.

If diagnosed early, Lyme disease usually can be treated effectively. But because its early symptoms are vague, many people don't seek medical attention right away; and Lyme becomes more difficult to treat as the disease progresses. This makes prevention of Lyme disease all the more important.

 

Lyme Disease "bullseye rash" photo courtesy of US-CDC.In most (but not all) cases, the earliest symptom of Lyme disease is a characteristic "bull's-eye" rash. Other common symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, malaise, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and joint pain.

As the disease progresses, swelling and pain in one or more joints usually occurs. In late stages, cognitive disorders, sleep disturbance, fatigue, and personality changes may occur if the disease begins to affect the nervous system.

Preventing Lyme Disease: Personal Protection

Because the bacterium that causes Lyme disease is vectored by ticks, personal protection to avoid Lyme involves taking measures to avoid being bitten by ticks, and taking appropriate actions if you are bitten. These measures include:

Environmental Measures to Help Prevent Lyme Disease

Homeowners and others responsible for care and maintenance of outdoors areas can help reduce incidence of Lyme disease by taking the following actions: