Lyme disease is a common tick-borne illness. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans.

If left untreated, an infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks.  Laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods.

The most common risk factors for Lyme disease include:

  • Spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Deer ticks are found in wooded areas, so it is especially important for people who spend time in these areas to take precautions to prevent tick bites.
  • Exposed skin. Ticks attach easily to bare skin. 
  • Not removing ticks quickly or correctly. A person can only be infected with the bacterium if the tick stays attached for 24-48 hours. If a tick is removed before that time, your risk of infection is reduced.

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick-infested areas. If you do spend time in these areas, the following can reduce your risk of infection.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long, light-colored pants tucked into socks or boots.
  • Stay on trails when walking or hiking and avoid tall grass.
  • Use insect repellents. Repellents that contain DEET should be used in concentrations no higher than 15% for children and 30% for adults. Remember, repellents are not recommended to be used on infants. Permethrin is a repellent that can only be applied to clothing, not exposed skin.
  • After each day spent in tick-infested areas, check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks. Ticks tend to prefer the back of the knee, armpit, scalp, groin, and back of the neck.
  • Shower shortly after coming indoors.
  • Remove any attached tick as soon as possible. Folk remedies, such as burning the tick with a match or covering it with petroleum jelly or nail polish, are not effective and can be dangerous because they may force the tick to regurgitate its gut contents, increasing the risk of disease transmission. The tick removal method described below is proven to be effective and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lyme Disease & Environment

Lyme disease is mainly found in the eastern United States and upper Midwest. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria is passed onto humans by the bite of an infected tick, primarily Ixodes scapularis (also known as the black-legged or deer tick). 

The Lyme disease bacterium is carried mostly by deer ticks. Ticks are most likely to spread the Lyme disease bacterium during their pre-adult stage (nymph). Nymphs are brown, very small, and difficult to see. Nymphs are most common between May and July and found in tall grasses and brush of wooded areas. Towards the end of summer and into fall, ticks mature and are less likely to spread disease.

Ticks painlessly attach themselves to a host (individual person or animal) and feed on the host's blood until they're swollen to many times their normal size. Scientific data suggests that ticks need to remain attached for 24-48 hours before the host is infected with the bacterium. An attached tick that looks swollen could have been attached long enough to transmit bacteria. 

Lyme Disease Resource Links