Although ticks don’t often cross our mind in Chicago, when we take a walk in any forest preserve or vacation to more rural areas in surrounding states, we should certainly be mindful of ticks. Not just for the creepy crawler factor, but mainly because any tick (deer, brown dog, American dog, Lonestar, Rocky Mountain Wood or Gulf Coast) can carry and transmit diseases that can be quite severe for older adults or those with a compromised immune system.

The biggest threat is the deer tick that carries Lyme disease. Detected and treated early, Lyme disease is curable, but the cure rate decreases the longer treatment is delayed. The symptoms of late stage Lyme disease can be ruthless – especially for older adults. This is why it is vital to be aware in wooded areas and to know where Lyme disease is prevalent.

Infected ticks are abundant in most of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and some Northeastern states like Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They are also very common in Northern Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Vermont, Maine and upstate New York. A key factor in the spreading of Lyme disease is how long the tick has been attached and feeding. The longer it feeds, the higher the chance of infection.

Lyme Disease Symptoms

In 80-90% of cases, a rash will appear at the site of the tick bite. This will either be a solid red rash or one that looks similar to a bull’s-eye. The rash is typically 5-6” in diameter and remains for approximately 3-5 weeks. It is not generally painful or itchy but may be warm.

Accompanying the rash, other symptoms such as joint pain, chills, fever and fatigue may be present but will likely be mild enough that most will not seek treatment. As Lyme disease spreads throughout the body, one might experience severe fatigue, a stiff, aching neck, abnormal pulse, sore throat, changes in vision, tingling or numbness in the extremities or facial palsy.

Late stage Lyme disease (weeks, months and years after initial infection) can present massive headaches, aching arthritis and swelling within the joints, cardiac abnormalities and cognitive disorders from central nervous system damage (short-term memory loss, dizziness, confusion etc.).

Even if you do not develop a rash but have been exposed and develop these symptoms, it is important to see a physician for a proper diagnosis. Blood tests performed within the first month of infection are not reliable; therefore, it is important to discuss symptoms with your doctor. Treatment consists of antibiotics, but late-Lyme patients’ treatment can be more complicated.

Prevention  

Deer ticks hide in lawns and gardens clinging to tall grass, brush and shrubs. They love shady moist ground, the edges of woodlands and old stone walls. Once a tick latches on, they climb upward in search of skin or a protected area such as a crease like the back of the knee, groin, armpit, navel, neck or ears. Once there, they bite until they reach the blood supply.

When outside in an infected area:

  • Wear enclosed shoes & tuck pants into shoes
  • Wear light colored clothing (makes spotting ticks much easier)
  • Scan clothes and exposed skin often
  • Try to remain on cleared paths
  • Avoid sitting on the ground or stone walls
  • Keep long hair pulled back
  • Use insect repellent containing DEET on skin or clothes
  • Do a full body check at the end of the day for you and your pets

Remember – nymphal deer ticks are the size of poppy seeds while adults are the size of apple seeds. Scan carefully and slowly.

Spot a Tick?

  • If not attached, remove and place in alcohol to kill.
  • If attached, don’t panic. It typically takes 36-48 hours after attachment to transmit Lyme disease. Using a pair of super pointed tweezers, grasp the tick by the mouth where it is entering the skin (not the body – the mouth). Pull firmly and slowly directly outward (do not jerk). Do not twist or use other methods such as alcohol or a match in an attempt to force the tick to back out (those methods are ineffective). Place in alcohol to kill, and clean the bite with hydrogen peroxide.

Information taken from:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/lyme-disease/DS00116
http://www.aldf.com/lyme-disease/

Carrie Robertson
Research & Community Education
Chicago Skilled Nursing

Chicago Senior Living