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Tick Prevention and Lyme Disease Symptoms

Tick prevention can be complicated. Ticks are sly, cunning little critters that are determined to wedge themselves inside the first warm-blooded host they cross paths with. If it sounds like they’re on the hunt for you, it’s because they are. 

In all seriousness, ticks can be a real threat to humans and animals. They can transmit diseases, many of which can be fatal if not treated quickly

And yet, these mobile disease spreading forest dwellers do serve a purpose. Yes, even ticks play an important role in our ecosystem. Ticks are at the bottom of the food chain; animals like reptiles, amphibians, and birds rely on ticks for food. Ticks are also very important components of our planet’s biodiversity, as they carry many different living microorganisms.  

Since these pesky vermin aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and we want to leave the house and go into nature every once and awhile, we have a choice to make. We can either NEVER go into nature for fear of ticks, (sounds difficult but who needs fresh air and peace and quiet anyways?!) OR we can learn about what makes ticks, tick! By understanding them, we can learn to steer clear of them and more importantly keep them the heck away from us — Erm.. we mean peacefully coexist with them! 

How do ticks get on you? 

Ticks require a host for food and without one they cannot move onto their next stage of growth in their life cycle. The host can be an animal or a human depending on the species of tick. These crafty bugs will sit and wait on leaves or branches while hoping for a host to brush up against them so they can latch onto clothing, skin or hair. Once they’ve hitched a ride, they search for the optimal place to hunker down and start feeding. 

Ticks are very well equipped to sense an optimal host in advance so they can get ready to attach themselves when the time is right. These arachnids possess specific traits that help them find a host. The ability to detect a host’s breath, pick up on chemicals via sweat and sense temperature changes as you approach them basically means human hosts are served up on a silver platter!  And if that wasn’t enough evolutionary help, some species of ticks can even recognize shadows. So, before you harmlessly brush by some bushes on your next hike, just remember these plotting pests are eagerly anticipating this very move! 

Fun fact: Ticks are attracted to ammonia and lactic acid. Ammonia is present in urine and lactic acid is a chemical produced in the body when you exercise. So, working up a sweat in the outdoors or peeing in the forest is a great way to attract ticks. 

Tick bites on humans

Within 2-3 days of a tick bite, the most common identifying mark is a dime-sized red spot. This is likely caused by an allergic reaction to the tick’s saliva. Some bites from ticks will have a hard bump underneath the site of the bite, but hopefully you see the tick before the bite. The tick will look like a small black or brown bug, anywhere from the size of a sesame seed to a pencil eraser. The tick’s head will likely be in your skin along with its legs. There might be some redness around where the tick is in your skin. 

Ticks like to feed in moist, warm areas on the body. Places like behind your knees, in the armpits, groin area or scalp are prime real estate for these hungry pests. Once they’ve made it to a desired destination, the tick will secrete a natural painkiller in its saliva before lodging its head into the skin of the host. Kind of like when an ostrich buries its head in the sand, but the ostrich is a blood sucking spider cousin with hook-like teeth, and the sand is your skin. FUN. And get this; the tick is so bloody smart (get it, bloody!?) it continues to release painkiller saliva so it’s host doesn’t clue in. Ruthless. 

After the tick breaks through the host’s skin, it’s lunch-time. These pests might look tiny, but they’re hard-core vampires, eating 200 to 600 times their own body weight in blood. Ticks will stay for a few days feeding and then just like you and your friends at Chipotle, they peace it out when they’re full. But, unlike you passing out post burrito baby, the satisfied tick will simply drop off your body and take off to start the next stage in it’s growth cycle. 

Are ticks dangerous? 

Some ticks can be dangerous to humans as they can transmit many diseases including the rampant Lyme disease, which affects 30,000 Americans every year. 

Symptoms of Lyme disease include rashes, migraine, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes and muscle soreness.

Someone who has been a host to a tick also runs the risk of reacting with an Alpha-gal allergy. This allergy is a reaction to a sugar molecule transferred via tick bite. It can be very hard to diagnose if you don’t realize you’ve been a host to a tick. This reaction can cause rash, hives, difficulty breathing, drop in blood pressure, dizziness or faintness, nausea or vomiting and severe stomach pain. Alpha-gal allergy normally present themselves 3-6 hours after eating meat, as cows and pigs can carry this molecule too. 

Ticks infected with the bacteria borrelia burgdorferi transfer Lyme disease. Not all ticks have this bacterium — just the sassy ones! Kidding. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) there are actually 2 known species of ticks that carry Lyme disease causing bacteria in the US; the Blacklegged tick and the Western Black legged tick. These ticks are native to over 35 states, so chances are you could run into them. Check out this map to see if ticks are native to your home state.

Fun fact: Technically, ticks are NOT bugs; they’re actually considered arachnids. Meaning ticks are closely related to everyone’s favorite friend; the spider. Arachnophobes might be wishing we didn’t share that fact.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an inflammatory disease caused by the bacteria borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by ticks. Normally the disease causes an initial rash shaped like an oval or bull’s-eye. The rash can present itself anywhere from 3-30 days post tick bite

However, more than 30% of Lyme disease patients don’t remember seeing a rash. A migraine, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes and muscle soreness are other common symptoms of Lyme disease. If the disease goes untreated, one runs the risk of contracting neurological disorders

Fortunately, in most cases, an antibiotic successfully treats the disease, but there are things you can do to prevent Lyme disease all together. 

Why are cases of Lyme disease growing? 

Lyme disease has become a growing concern. Experts suggest that climate change is the reason behind the alarming rates of growth in reported Lyme disease cases, as the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is more prevalent after warm winters and springs. Past data supports this. In 1991 there were about 10,000 reported cases in the US, and in the past 5 years that number has jumped to an average of almost 30,000 cases annually

Warmer weather also increases the chances of survival for ticks (they won’t freeze to death) and hotter temperatures quicken their life cycles. Their eggs hatch sooner and therefore they spend more time hunting for hosts. Higher survival rates and sped up life cycles means diseases are transmitted faster. 

There’s one more phenomenon that has caused Lyme disease to take over entire states in a matter of years; the growth in mice populations. The white-footed mice in particular are responsible for giving ticks the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Ticks are not born with the bacteria; they’re infected with it after they feed on the mice. The white-footed mice have seen a massive population growth since the 1980’s, due to human’s deconstructing forests. When we cut down massive amounts of trees, we end up killing their natural predators, causing unnatural population growth in this species of mice. This means more food for ticks and more Lyme disease for us.  Nature is very delicate, even the tiniest change to the environment can have dangerous outcomes. Peacefully coexisting with all beings is integral to preserving the natural order of life. 

 

How to prevent Lyme disease

There are many simple ways to decrease your chances of getting Lyme disease. Wearing long sleeved clothing, tucking your pants into your socks, wearing tick repellent and staying in the middle of the trail are all great ways to stay clear of clingy ticks. 

Doing a quick body check for ticks when you get home from the outdoors is always a good idea. Like we said before, these sesame seed sized pests have painkiller saliva! This means you can’t feel them when they bite you, which is why checking your body after spending time outside should be regular practice. 

If you do find a tick on your body, the CDC has some tips on how to safely and quickly remove it. Don’t panic. Remember, not all ticks have this bacteria, so just because a tick bit you, does not mean you 100% have Lyme disease. Review the symptoms for Lyme disease and keep them in mind if you’ve been bitten. If you present any of the symptoms, seek medical help as soon as possible. 

CDC recommended tick repellent

Tick repellent can be the best way to avoid a tick-borne disease. Ticks are very sensitive, they can pick up on chemicals in your sweat and breath and any scents that distract them from sensing prey or feeding, will naturally send them elsewhere. 

Stay Away Mosquitoes contains the CDC recommended chemical picaridin. Picaridin both repels AND deters ticks and other insects. These pests are repelled by the scent and will physically move away when encountered with it. It even blocks some insects from being able to sense their prey and they will refuse to feed if they encounter skin or clothing with picaridin on it. Stay Away Mosquitoes provides 14 hour protection and is even safe enough to use during pregnancy. 

As the risk of Lyme disease continues to grow due to climate change and industrialization, it’s more important than ever to take proper precautions. Prevention is the key, and nothing prevents ticks more than a high quality repellent like Stay Away Mosquitoes

 

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