Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital June 25, 2013
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacterium is spread through the bite of infected ticks. The blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads the disease in our area of the country. Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see areas (see below). In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted. Most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and difficult to see. Follow these tips to help prevent Lyme disease this summer.
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Pay especially close attention to these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Back of the knees
- In and around all head and body hair
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
Ticks may be carried into your house on clothing and pets, so be sure to check these too. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks.
If you find a tick, remove it correctly by following these directions:
- Remove an attached tick using fine-tipped tweezers or one of many of the inexpensive specialized tick-removal tools found online or in camping supply stores.
- Carefully position the tweezers or tool beneath the tick and as close to the skin as possible. You will be grasping the tick by its mouth.
- Lift the tick with steady, gentle, upward force to “tent” the skin surface.
- Be patient and wait, keeping a steady pressure. Don’t jerk or twist the tick or try to pull it out. The tick will soon let go.
- If you do break the tick off and leave some of its mouth part in your skin, try to remove it. If you cannot, don’t panic. Just cleanse the area with rubbing alcohol, soap, and water, or an iodine scrub, and let the skin heal.
Just as importantly, avoid removing incorrectly with one of the following methods or tools. All of these methods can cause the tick to expel disease carrying bacteria into or on the skin:
- Do NOT use a pair of thick-tipped eyebrow tweezers or your fingers.
- Do NOT try to suffocate the tick by applying a substance like nail polish to your skin.
- Do NOT try to burn the tick off.
Not as a routine, but in some cases, you may want to send a removed tick or part of a tick to a laboratory to test for the presence of Borrelia burdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, or other bactera which can also cause disease, such as Anaplasma phagocytophilum which can cause anaplasmosis or Babesia microti which can cause babesiosis. This information may help determine how long you are treated. Your health care provider can help you determine if there is good reason to send the tick for testing.
Another strategy for dealing with ticks this summer is to reduce your risk of tick exposure by creating tick-reduced zones in your backyard.
- Keep patios, play areas, and playground equipment away from shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation.
- Regularly remove leaf litter and clear all grasses and brush around your home.
- Lace wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to help keep ticks away from recreational areas – and away from you!
- Staying healthy this summer: read the Osher Center’s Healthy 850 Newsletter (June, 2013) issue
- Lyme disease: visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention