Bob Oley, PE, MSPH
Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Expert
Public Health and Site Consultant

Lyme Disease Fact Sheet

  1. Lyme disease is the most common and fastest growing vector-borne disease in the United States. People of all ages get Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections. People at greatest risk include gardeners, golfers, campers, hikers, hunters, pet owners, and just about anyone who enjoys being outdoors. Higher infection rates occur in children, ages 2 to 14 years, and middle-age adults.
  2. Deer ticks, otherwise known as blacklegged ticks, are the carriers for the Lyme disease bacteria. Unfortunately, these ticks are also carriers of other disease organisms as well, including, but not limited to, the agents causing babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella, tularemia, tick paralysis, and viruses. While Lyme disease is the most common deer tick-associated infection, co-infection with one or more other pathogens can complicate one’s Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment.
  3. The phrase “deer tick” is somewhat of a misnomer. Although deer are important as reproductive hosts in the life cycle of these ticks, other vertebrate animals actually infect the ticks with disease organisms, not the deer. These animals include white footed mice, chipmunks, shrews, several species of ground feeding birds (American robin, finches, wrens, blue jays, etc.), and many other small mammals. Humans also serve as hosts for ticks, and once a person is bitten by an infected tick, he or she can become infected with the same disease organisms carried by the tick.
  4. Deer ticks are parasites. They must feed on the blood of a host to survive. They require a total of three blood meals during their two-year four stage life cycle. The four stages of their life cycle include egg, larva, nymph and adult.
  5. The deer tick larva is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence, the nymph is the size of a poppy seed, and the adult is the size of a sesame seed. Due to their small size and flat shape, they can be very difficult to find on your body.
  6. Nymphal deer ticks cause the majority of Lyme disease infections in people. Nymphs are most active in the late spring and summer months, and because of their very small size, are generally not detected.
  7. Although the spring and summer months are typically the riskiest for getting bitten by a deer tick, you can be bitten at just about any other time of the year. Even in winter, adult deer ticks are active during periods of above freezing temperatures when the ground is not frozen or covered with snow.
  8. Deer ticks require humid environments. Thus, high risk areas on your property, as well as on golf courses, parks, etc., include leaf litter, tall grass and bushy areas, brush piles, wood piles, stone walls, areas planted with pachysandra or other ground covers, and lawn perimeters where they meet forest, woodlot, or garden edges.
  9. Protect your pets with tick killing products. Check pets regularly for ticks. Pets, which go outside the house onto lawns and into wooded areas, can bring ticks into your home, where they can crawl off your pet onto you or your children.

10. Deer ticks attach to their hosts from the edges of leaves, tips of grasses, bushes, etc. where they wait for an unsuspecting host to rub against their location. Potential hosts, such as humans, acquire ticks by direct contact with them. Deer ticks may attach anywhere on the human body, but generally are found where clothing constricts and restricts their movement; back of knee, groin, waist, back of upper arm, chest, back of ear, and head are common places to find deer ticks. Attached ticks oftentimes feel like a small scab when you run your fingers over your skin.

11. Deer ticks attach to their hosts for several days while they engorge with blood, then they drop off and molt into the next stage of their life cycle. Female deer ticks use the blood meal to develop approximately 2,000 eggs, which are laid in the spring.

12. Some, though not everyone, believe that deer ticks must be attached to you for longer than 24 hours to pass on the Lyme disease infection. However, other tick-borne disease organisms can be transmitted in less than 24 hours. So when finding an attached tick on you or your children, you can ill afford to ignore it.

13. Bull’s eye rashes larger than approximately 2 inches in diameter are the classical clinical sign of Lyme disease infection although they may not always appear, or even appear right away. If you do find a bull’s eye rash on your body, see a doctor immediately for treatment as it means you have Lyme disease.

14. Other typical early stage symptoms for Lyme disease include fever, chills, swollen glands, headache, stiff neck, rash, fatigue, joint pain, muscle ache, sore throat, stomach pain and sleeplessness. Delays in treatment of the disease can lead to far more serious and debilitating symptoms and conditions.

15. To minimize getting bitten by ticks when outside, it is best to wear tick repellent clothing, especially clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide which repels and kills ticks. If the clothing is treated by you, it will remain protective through six washings. Pre-treated clothing is also available and can remain protective for up to 70 washings. EPA-approved insect repellent can be applied to skin for added protection but does not work as effectively as tick repellent clothing.

16  If possible when outside, wear light colored clothing and avoid sitting directly on the grass, or on stonewalls and fallen logs. If feasible, avoid woodlands and high grasses. Walk in the center of woodland trails and avoid walking along deer paths.

17. When coming in from outside, check your clothing and entire body carefully for ticks, especially where clothing touches the skin (cuffs, underwear elastics, etc.). Don’t forget your hair, ears, and underarm areas. Pay particular attention to your children, and make tick checks at the end of their outdoor activities and at bedtime.

18. If you find a tick attached to your skin or that of your child, remove it right away with pointed tweezers. Pull slowly upward on the tick until the tick releases, and then disinfect the bite area with alcohol. If possible, save the tick in a zip lock bag for lab testing, and definitely call your health care provider.

19. Drying your outdoor clothes in a clothes dryer when you first take them off can kill any ticks attached to your clothing by drying them out. Washing clothes, even in hot water, does not kill them. However, just 15 to 30 minutes on high heat in the clothes dryer should be enough to kill them.