By Kayla Blais, MPH
Health Educator, Education and Training
Welcome to Maine! Whether you’re here for the summer or here all year round, there’s no place like it.
My Dad always said one of the reasons he would never move from Maine is that there are no poisonous spiders or snakes here. Well, in recent years we’ve started to hear more and more about Maine’s own creepy crawly friends that transmit several serious illnesses. We may not have poisonous snakes and spiders, but we do have ticks! Did you know that ticks have 8 legs and are actually arachnids closely related to spiders? Well, now you do!
What is Lyme disease?
Scientists discovered Lyme disease in 1976 in Lyme, Connecticut, thus the name. But what is Lyme disease you ask?
Lyme disease is caused by a tiny bacterium called Borrelia [buh-rel-ee-uh] burgdorferi [burg·dor·fe·ri]. This bacteria lives inside of a tick’s stomach until the tick starts sucking our blood. It then travels into the tick’s saliva and then into our body when the tick bites through our skin. Once the bacteria are in our body it triggers an immune response which, if not treated, can cause serious problems for your heart or brain. Treatment with medication (antibiotics) can kill the bacteria and help your body heal before any of these serious problems develop.
Watch for these symptoms to catch a possible Lyme disease infection as soon as possible:
Unfortunately, ticks in Maine now commonly carry other diseases harmful to humans such as:
So how can we prevent ticks from giving us these diseases?
- A tick must be feeding on you for at least 24 hours before the Lyme disease bacteria can travel into your body.
- This gives us time to remove the tick before we get Lyme disease.
- We don’t yet know how long it takes for the other tick-borne diseases to be transmitted to humans after being bitten; it could be right away. For this reason, we want to do everything we can to make sure that ticks don’t bite us in the first place.
Take precautions when outdoors.
Wear long pants and long sleeves that cover all exposed skin areas.
Wear light-colored clothing. Ticks are dark in color, so wearing light-colored clothing will make it easier for you to see and remove them right away.
Pull long socks up over the bottom of your pants and tuck your shirt in to your pants. Here’s another little-known fact about ticks: Ticks only crawl upward. If you are walking through the grass or the woods and a tick attaches to your shoe or your sock, this will keep it from going under your clothes where you might miss seeing it.
Wear tick repellent. Make sure your bug spray repels ticks and mosquitoes. Lemon eucalyptus oil is a more natural option for repelling ticks.
Treat your pets for ticks, so that they don’t carry them inside your home.
Do tick checks every day! If you have young children or pets, make sure you check them also.
Discourage ticks from living around your home.
Ticks can’t survive direct wind or sunlight, because it dries them out. Keep your grass cut short so that it doesn’t offer them any protection.
Create a border around the space between wooded areas and your yard. Ticks can’t crawl across a patch of mulch or a small rock wall without drying out.
Woodland creatures can carry ticks into your yard. Try to keep them from entering your yard, either by putting up a physical barrier like a fence, or by not having items that might attract them like sources of food.
If you want to know more about ticks, the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) works very hard to keep up-to-date information about ticks and the diseases they can carry. Check out their website to find other helpful information: http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/index.shtml.
If you would like more information on this, or any other health related topic, the health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.