With warmer weather starting, Lyme Disease season is here and the Freehold Area Health Department Tick-borne Diseases Program would like to remind the public of the potential for Lyme Disease transmission to both humans and domestic animals.
Lyme Disease is caused by a spirochete bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) which is spread through a bite from infected ticks. In New Jersey, the tick most commonly associated with infections of Lyme Disease is the black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick) (Ixodes scapularis). The deer tick is found in the shrubby understory of the forest and at the edges between woodland and high grassy areas. Ticks do not jump or fly-they crawl up vegetation and wait for an animal to brush against them. They then climb upon the animal and insert their mouthparts. They will feed on blood for 3 to 5 days. Following a blood meal, the tick swells to more than 4 times its normal size and then drops to the ground.
While appearing to be a mild disease initially, Lyme Disease can result in serious medical complications in humans if not treated. Symptoms usually occur one to two weeks after being bitten by an infected tick, beginning with an enlarging red area of the skin at the site of the bite. Other early symptoms include fever, headache, neck stiffness, malaise, and general muscle and joint aches and pain. If not treated, the disease can spread to affect other areas of the body such as the nerves and heart.
If you find a tick attached to you, you should remove it carefully with a pair of tweezers, being cautious not to leave pieces behind which would likely cause infection. Persons who believe they have found a tick on themselves or their animal are encouraged to place the tick in a small container with moist cotton and send it to health officials so that proper testing and identification. This practice will help us understand the size of the tick population and the extent of infection is those ticks.
- What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are spread to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Lyme disease can cause serious joint, heart or central nervous system problems if it is not recognized early in the disease process and treated appropriately.
- How common is Lyme disease nationwide and in New Jersey?
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the United States, accounting for more than 95% of all cases of reported tick-borne disease. National statistics on Lyme disease are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1981 (when Lyme disease became reportable in the state) and 2005, over 32,000 cases have been reported in New Jersey. During the past 5 years, New Jersey has averaged of over 2,750 cases annually and in 2005, reported 3,363 Lyme disease cases, the highest number ever recorded in the state. Lyme disease is considered endemic in all 21 New Jersey counties.
- What should I do if I find a tick on me?
The longer a tick remains attached to someone, the greater the chance it will be able to spread a disease-causing agent. Any attached tick should be removed as soon as possible using fine-point tweezers. The tick should not be squeezed or twisted, but grasped close to the skin and pulled straight out with steady pressure.
- After I remove an attached tick, should I have it identified?
See the Tick Identification Resources.
- Should I be medically treated after removing an attached tick?
The removal of a tick alone does not warrant medical treatment with antibiotics. Look for the development of a red rash, which may be an early symptom of Lyme disease. Such a rash, called erythema migrans, often starts as a flat or raised red area and slowly expands over several days. It may have a partial central clearing. Be aware, however, that not all infected individuals develop a rash. Other symptoms may include fatigue, headache, neck stiffness, pain or stiffness in muscles or joints, slight fever, swollen glands, or conjunctivitis. If you have a tick bite followed by a rash or any of these other symptoms, consult your physician.
- How can I prevent diseases spread by ticks?
Learning how to recognize and avoid tick-infested areas is the best way of preventing exposure to ticks and tick-borne diseases. However, people working or recreating in tick-infested areas can reduce the chance of being bitten and acquiring a tick-borne disease by always following proper personal protective and prevention measures. You can reduce the number of ticks around your home by removing high grass, weeds, leaf litter, and woody undergrowth from around your home. Pesticides that kill ticks can be applied to your yard as a last resort if large numbers of ticks are present. More suggestions can be found at Protecting Your Home.