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The Time Bomb Tick I Never Saw

Learn how to diagnose, treat and, best of all, avoid Lyme disease.

| July 2, 2008

  • Deer Tick
    Deer ticks, or black-legged ticks, are the only known carriers of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

  • Deer Tick

If knowledge is power, you would think I would never get Lyme disease after researching and writing The Lowdown on Lyme Disease four years ago. But in June 2006, while visiting an area where Lyme disease is common, I helped weed a perennial bed wearing shorts and flip-flops. Bad idea! I never saw the tiny tick that got me, but two weeks later I had hot, painful swelling on my side. At first I thought it was a super-chigger or spider bite, but it didn't itch. Eight days later, I was down for the count with chills, fever, body aches and a killer headache — all symptoms of Lyme disease. 

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid areas in which ticks are prevalent. Wear a hat and light-colored clothing (to help you see ticks before they find skin), and tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks. When you can, cover as much skin as possible instead of dousing yourself with insect repellants. Be especially watchful if you live (or visit) where Lyme disease is common. The Northeast has the most cases, as reflected in these state-by-state statistics

How to Spot Lyme Disease

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that, if left untreated, affects the joints, heart and nervous system. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a round, inflamed reaction at the site of the bite. 

The deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks) that transmit Lyme disease are so small they could pass for poppy seeds. If you have found one of these ticks imbedded in your skin, watch the bite closely for swelling and redness. 

A bite from a Lyme-carrying tick is supposed to develop a bull's eye pattern of concentric rings that gradually increases in size, but mine was solid red, 2 inches across, hot to the touch, and painful rather than itchy. However, I found that holding a warm, moist washcloth over the inflamed bite revealed the hidden rings. 

What You Should Do (and When)

Get to a doctor when your symptoms are consistent with Lyme infection — flulike body aches and fever, and a seriously inflamed bug bite. A blood test may be ordered, but it may give negative results if you're just starting to get sick. Current clinical guidelines advise antibiotic therapy if symptoms appear within 30 days of a suspected tick bite. 

silver birch
3/10/2009 8:43:50 AM

I can second Elizabeth's recommendation for tick tubes. Some garden centers carry them or you can order online ( I have used these in my yard for the last three years, and haven't noticed any ticks since I started placing them out there. My dog used to always get a couple of ticks in the summer (although I can't say if they were Lyme Disease carrying deer ticks or not) I figure better safe than sorry.

TERRI Buckner
7/18/2008 9:26:38 AM

I got Lyme's Disease for the first time this summer. The flu-like symptoms came on a week and a half prior to the distinctive rash. Reports like this always tell the symptoms, if left untreated, but beyond the flu-like symptoms and rash, they never indicate the symptoms while the disease is active. The antibiotics knock out the fever, headache, etc. pretty quickly. The CDC guidelines recommend against the testing (inaccurate). So how does anyone know if the disease is gone or if the antibiotics need to be extended?

Elizabeth Greene
7/14/2008 8:08:28 PM

There are 2 other effective ways to control lyme disease besides spraying. One way, which was tested on Long Island to be 90% effective, year after year, is to use tick tubes (Damminix manufactures them) which are little tubes filled with cotton which has been coated with permethrin. Mice, which spread the disease, take the cotton and build nests, and the permethrin repels or kills the ticks. The other way, is to leave corn or other feed out for deer which has been coated with ivermectin, which is a wormer. Go to the yahoo lyme group for other information and references and htmls

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