Last week I removed a tick from a patient. It was smaller than the one pictured, but still she had some concerns. So let's review a few facts about ticks and Lyme disease prevention.
First of all in the United States, unless you live in the Northeast, upper Midwest, or Northwestern regions, the risk of the infection is low. I am not familiar with the statistics in Europe and Asia.
What: The tick, Ixodes scapularis, carries Borrelia burgdorferi, the spirochete bug, which causes Lyme disease, a multisystem inflammatory condition involving the joints, heart, and nervous system.
How: Once the tick hops on to you it has to bite and hold on to you for at least 24 - 48 hours before it can transmit the infection.
When: Spring/summer is feeding time for the nymph which is the smaller and more infectious stage of the tick.
Prevention: 1) Wear long sleeves and pants and tuck the pants into the socks. 2) Use DEET containing mosquito repellent. 3) Wear light colored clothing so to see the ticks better. 4) Check for ticks after an outdoor activity. 5) If you see a tick remove it with a tweezer. See here for the removal procedure. There is no vaccine available. It was taken off the market.
Treatment: Prophylactic antibiotics are usually not given unless you live in an endemic area. If you see a rash, erythema migrans, then see your doctor in which case antibiotics would be considered. If treated early, Lyme is an easily curable disease.
References: Treatment of Lyme DiseaseThe Medical Letter, Inc. Volume 47 (Issue 1209) May 23, 2005. How Can We Prevent Lyme Disease? Edward B. Hayes, M.D., and Joseph Piesman, D.S. New England Journal of Medicine, 2003 Jun 12;348(24):2424-30.
Image: courtesy of movie poster Ticks.