It’s that time of year again. The sun is shining, children are playing soccer or baseball, and families are spending more time outdoors. Weekend visits to favorite parks, lakes or other grassy, wooded areas occur more frequently.
But be careful – all of these activities put outdoor lovers at risk for the tick-borne illness called Lyme disease. First identified in the United States in 1975 in Lyme, Conn., Lyme disease (LD) is a multi-stage, multi-system infection caused by a spiral-shaped bacterium most commonly transmitted by a tick bite. In most of the United States, the deer tick is most likely to carry LD.
While ticks are a year-round problem, April through October is considered tick season, with ticks being very active in the spring and early summer. In Texas, there are 11 public health regions, and LD has been reported in all of them.
Fortunately, there are precautions to reduce the risk.
According to Jackie Costello, R.N., M.S.N., assistant professor in the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, the foremost priority is to be aware if you are in an area where deer ticks are prevalent.
When outdoors, deer ticks attach easily to skin, so wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and long pants, Costello says. It may also help to wear light colors that will allow you to detect ticks easier.
"Keep children and pets from wandering in areas with tall grasses and weeds," Costello says. "Inspect them carefully should they be exposed to these areas. Tick-proof your own backyard by clearing brush and leaves. Yards well maintained and exposed to sunlight aid in keeping ticks away. Using tick repellent such as DEET or tick-killing products also may be valuable. Be cautious when using such products on children, and make sure to read product labels carefully and follow instructions."
Costello also recommends inspecting your clothes and skin, because ticks remain on the skin for hours before attaching. Develop a habit of checking areas most common for tick bites such as the armpits, behind the knees, beltline, groin and scalp. Taking a bath or shower after outdoor activities may assist in early detection and removal, too.
"The disease can linger even if you have no symptoms, so if you feel there is a chance you or a family member has been exposed, contact your health care provider," Costello says.