Turkey season is a most enjoyable time of the year, but the ever present danger of being exposed to ticks is something that every hunter needs to take precautions against. Most important to the outdoors enthusiast, you don't have to be hunting turkeys to find yourself in a doctor's office. Ticks that carry Lyme disease can be found anywhere, including the beach, parks, playgrounds and even your own backyard.
Sitting for long periods of time on the ground, especially against trees, is an ideal opportunity to find yourself crawling with these pesky little rascals. For the most part, ticks create an itchy, irritated area on your skin that is gone within a few days. However, Lyme disease is a real and very dangerous possibility.
While most people have probably heard the term, many do not know exactly what Lyme disease is or what the symptoms are. Lyme disease (LD) is a multi-system bacterial infection caused by the spirochete Borrelia burgdoferi (Bb). Spirochetes are maintained in nature inside the bodies of wild animals and are transmitted from one animal to another through the bite of an infective tick. Pets and humans are simply incidental hosts to ticks.
Unfortunately, the human body does not maintain a natural immunity to the disease, which means that a person can be reinfected with the disease on subsequent tick bites.
The life cycle of ticks includes four stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. They evolve from one life stage to another by molting. Each of the last three "active" life stages requires a blood meal. When a tick feeds on an infected host animal, the tick becomes infected and the next human in its food chain gets the bonus bite. Ticks that transmit Lyme disease can retain the infection throughout their life and are able to transmit the infection to subsequent hosts. This ability to pass the infection on to other hosts makes the tick "infective", although adult ticks generally do not pass the spirochete on to their next generation.
Transmitters of the bacteria in North America include: the Western black-legged (Ixodes pacificus) tick in the West, and the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the rest of the country. The black-legged tick was temporarily known as the "deer" tick (Ixodes "dammini"). Research is underway to determine if the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) may also transmit the infection.
Ticks can bite year-round, but the peak tick season in the northeast is April - September, and on the West coast is November - April. Ticks can survive under a variety of conditions as long as adequate moisture is available. In southern states ticks are active almost year round. Infection rates vary geographically from one year to the next.
The good news is that a locally infective tick must be attached to the host for a day or more before transmission of Bb occurs. However, a systematically infected tick or improper tick removal may cause transmission of LD much sooner.
Symptoms of LD
The signs, or symptoms, of early local Lyme disease often start with flu-like feelings of headache, fatigue, stiff neck, fever, and muscle aches. A large number (about 60%) of light-skinned patients notice a unique expanding rash, referred to as erythema migrans (EM), from days to weeks after the bite. On dark-skinned people, this rash resembles a bruise.
The rash may appear as soon as a day after the bite or as much as a month later. The rash often starts as a small, reddish bump about one-half inch in diameter. It may be either slightly raised or flat. It expands outward quickly, often leaving a clear area (normal flesh color) in the center. This rash can enlarge to the size of a thumb-print or cover a person's entire back.
Don't confuse a normal local reaction to a tick bite, with signs of Lyme disease infection. A small inflamed skin bump or discoloration that develops within hours of a bite, or over the next day or two, is not likely to be caused by an infection. Tick bites normally cause a local reaction.
Unfortunately, Lyme disease is very difficult to diagnose, and often the symptoms are not immediately associated with a tick bite. In severe cases, symptoms can include a huge list of things that are two numerous to detail. Among them, some are severe and persistent. Some of the more common are weakness or paralysis of limbs, loss of reflexes, tingling sensations of the extremities, difficulty chewing or swallowing, a change in smell and taste sensations, chest pains, severe aches, irregular heart beats and many others.
The list of potential symptoms alone should cause anyone, that is going outdoors, to pay close attention to their bodies when they return from a trip. Ticks like to attach themselves in areas where they aren't rubbed by clothing, but they can be found anywhere. Check small children closely, especially the following day, when ticks are easier to find because of the slight red area they create around their bite. Make sure you check the head and hairline carefully.
Removing a Tick
The Lyme Disease Foundation advises the following techniques for removing ticks. Use a pair of tweezers to remove the tick, and don't smash it between your fingers. Normally, when ticks are caught quickly, they aren't hard to remove. If you pull slowly, the tick will usually release its bite, rather than lose its head.
The body juices of the tick can cause an infection without a bite. If you are in the woods, and don't have a pair of tweezers, use a leaf to insulate you from the juice when removing them. Trying to smother the tick with petroleum jelly or nail polish doesn't work, because the tick has enough oxygen through its food supply to maintain itself while feeding.
Put the tick into a small bottle and keep it until you are sure that the bite isn't going to exhibit any severe symptoms.
Call your doctor if you have any concerns, or if symptoms appear to be more than a normal tick bite.
Avoiding ticks doesn't have to mean avoid the great outdoors. The old timers used to soak a string in kerosene and tie it around their ankles, but we have access to better options than that today. Spray your pants legs, socks and clothing with an insect repellent that specifically lists ticks on its label. Duranon Tick Repellent is an excellent choice. This product is designed for use on clothing, and not on skin. Make sure you read the instructions before use.
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
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