A tick passes through four life cycles: egg, larva, nymph and adulthood over a one- to two-year period. They do not jump or fly; but they do crawl; which is why it's important to wear long-sleeved clothing while gardening or playing outside for long periods of time.
White-tailed deer are the favorite hosts of deer ticks. In the warm months beginning from March through May, when deer become extremely active, deer ticks thrive. As deer enter backyards in search of food, deer ticks and Lyme disease follow – and they do not go dormant – even in the wintertime. They will remain active in search of a warm-blooded host as long as temperatures are above freezing.
It's important to note that not all deer ticks are infected with pathogens like Lyme disease; but if they attach to a human, and stay for longer periods of time, the effects can be harmful.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease, often referred to as Lyme, is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted to humans and animals through tick bites.
Where do ticks find warm-blooded hosts?
Most often, individuals get bit while working outside in the garden, hiking, or walking their dog.
"Although many tick species can transmit Lyme disease, deer ticks are primary carriers in the United States," says Mark Dayhoff, wildlife control expert and general manager of DeerBusters.com.
Tick species usually hang out in grassy or woodland areas. If you are an outdoors enthusiast, it is strongly suggested that you wear insect repellents and/or long-sleeve clothing. Be sure to do a thorough body tick-check after outdoor events on both pets and yourself.
If you encounter a deer tick bite, you may not see sudden effects. In most cases, the area will become swollen or red with a "bull's eye" on the infected area.
Lyme disease symptoms - what to expect:
In 60 to 80 percent of all cases, a rash resembling a "bull's eye" appears around the skin of the bite. This often occurs within 30 days. (Sometimes, multiple rashes can occur around the infected bite.) Most individuals will experience a fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and swollen glands – often confused with signs of the flu. As the disease progresses, severe fatigue and numbness of the arms and legs occur – even facial paralysis. Symptoms may not be immediately evident after a tick bite.
Treatment of Lyme:
Early treatments require antibiotics and usually result in full cures. However, the chances for a full recovery decrease if treatment is delayed.
Here are the latest facts about deer ticks presented by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry:
Ticks are becoming resistant to pesticides.
Blacklegged ticks live in woody areas. Exposure to these ticks can be greatest along trails and edges of woods.
Blacklegged ticks generally climb onto a person or animal near ground level.
Ticks are stimulated by heat, carbon dioxide, and movement.
Ticks can be active when temperatures are above 40 degrees and when there is a 70 percent snow cover. They are active year round in southern areas.
Male ticks also carry Lyme disease.
Products containing 30%-40% DEET are most effective for ticks. Use on skin and clothing, targeting shoes, pants and legs. Warning for children: If using DEET, less than 10 percent strength is recommended.
Purchase a proper tick removal tool. DO NOT use nail polish remover, gasoline or Vaseline on the area to remove the tick.
Lyme disease rashes are usually circular "bulls-eye" marked. However, this is not always the case. Some appear to have linear markings such as stretch marks. As a safety precaution, visit a doctor after tick removal.
Symptoms of Lyme disease are often mistaken for flu because they include: fever, chills, headache, muscle pains, joint pain and fatigue.
Less than 50% of patients with tick borne disease remember a tick bite.
Some state or local health departments offer tick tests. Contact your local jurisdiction for such a service.
What can we do at home to stop the spread of deer ticks?
According to Dayhoff, "Deer fencing is the most effective means for excluding deer." Dayhoff adds "animal repellents, which deter deer using odors and chemicals, and animal scaring devices, which deter deer using sounds, can be satisfactory alternatives when deer fencing is not feasible."
Per the National Center for Biological Information, a division of the National Institute of Health, the use of deer fencing has been proven to reduce the risk of Lyme disease by 83-97% (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Without deer entering the area surrounding your home, new deer ticks become limited and eventually, existing deer ticks become scarce.
In addition, the CDC encourages homeowners to create a tick-safe zoning area around the home. They recommend the following:
Clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
Place a 3-foot wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas and around patios and play equipment. This will restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
Mow the lawn frequently and keep leaves raked.
Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents that ticks feed on).
Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees and place them in a sunny location, if possible.
Apply deer repellents and pesticides.
According to Dayhoff, "Non-toxic, organic deer repellents can be an excellent alternative to harsh chemical repellents. In addition to the environmental benefits, organic repellents can be safer for children and pets."
By protecting your living area from deer, you may reduce your risk of Lyme disease by 83-97% just by installing deer fencing in lawns and gardens!
By Pamela Crawford, author, Easy Patio Veggies & Herbs
Photographs courtesy of Pamela Crawford
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