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AN INFORMATIONAL ARTICLE ON DEER TICKS AND LYME DISEASE

As fall like temperatures turn colder and winter quickly approaches residents will be enjoying outdoor activities while the weather is still tolerable. Palos Park offers a combination of beautiful wooded areas and extremely active wildlife this time of year. Unfortunately our wonderful outdoor environment offers the perfect habitat for different ticks which have been more abundant in our area over the past few years. One cause for concern is that Lyme Disease is spread to humans through a tick common to our area known as the Deer Tick.

Lyme disease was first recognized in the United States in 1975 after an unusual outbreak of arthritis near Lyme, Connecticut. The Deer Tick, also known as the Black-Legged Tick can be found throughout the entire United States. Most frequent infected ticks with Lyme Disease are found from Massachusetts to Maryland, northern California, and the north central states especially Minnesota and Wisconsin. Since 1975, reports of Lyme disease have increased dramatically, and the disease has become an important health concern in northern portions of the United States.

Lyme disease is a bacterial disease transmitted by an infected tick. The disease transfer occurs when a Deer Tick bites a human. Not all Deer Ticks carry the bacterium, and a bite does not always result in the development of Lyme Disease. However, since it is impossible to tell which ticks are infected, it is important to avoid tick bites whenever possible.

Immature Deer Ticks can be very small, normally about the size of a pin, adult Deer Ticks are slightly larger, normally about the size of a tomato seed. Both the immature and adult ticks can transmit Lyme Disease. Deer Ticks acquire the bacteria by feeding primarily on small mammals infected with the bacteria, particularly the white-foot mouse, white-tailed deer, and raccoons.

The Deer Tick will search for host animals from the leaf litter of the forest floor (immature ticks) or from the tips of grasses and shrubs (adult ticks) where they will crawl on animals or persons. Ticks do not fly or jump. Ticks found on the human scalp usually have crawled there from a lower part of the body. Ticks feed on blood, inserting their mouth parts (not their whole bodies) into the skin of a person or animal. Deer Ticks are slow feeders; a complete blood meal can take several days. As the tick feeds their body slowly enlarges. The risk of exposure to Deer Ticks is greatest in the woody areas and in the lawn area between lawns and woody areas. Ticks can also be carried by wild and domestic animals onto lawns, gardens, and into houses.

Early stages of “Lyme Disease” are usually noted by one or more of the following symptoms:
Fatigue
Chills and fever
Headache
Muscle and joint pain
Swollen lymph nodes
An oval characteristic skin rash referred to as a “Bulls-Eye”
Normally the “Bulls-Eye” will appear on the skin within 3 days to 1 month
after the bite of an infected tick.

Lyme Disease can be treated effectively with antibiotics. Several antibiotics are effective and are usually given by but may be given intravenously in more severe cases. Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stages of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely. Most patients who are treated in the later stages of the disease also respond well to antibiotics. Some infected patients who are treated for Lyme Disease may have persistent or recurrent symptoms, and may require additional antibiotic treatment. Varying degrees of permanent damage to joints or the nervous system can develop in patients which have had Lyme Disease for longer periods of time. Typically these are patients in which Lyme Disease was unrecognized in the early stages. Lyme Disease is rarely, if ever fatal.

Here are a few precautions you can take to decrease the chances of being bitten by a tick:

  • Avoid tick-infested areas, especially in May, June, July, October and November.

  • Wear light-colored clothing so that you can spot ticks more easily.

  • Tuck pant legs in socks or boots and tuck shirts into pants to keep ticks outside of clothing.

  • Tape the area where pants and socks meet so that ticks cannot crawl under clothing.
    Wear a long-sleeved shirt for added protection.

  • Spary insect repellent containing 20-30% concentration of DEET on clothes. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying repellents.

  • Walk in the center of the trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass and brush on trail edges.