Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States and Canada and outdoor construction sites in wooded areas are not the only places where it’s important to take precautions. While the blacklegged ticks that spread Lyme disease are commonly called “deer ticks,” there do not need to be any deer around for ticks to thrive.
On the East Coast, the primary carrier of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease is the white-footed mouse. On the West Coast, it’s the grey squirrel. Both are attracted to grassy locations including suburban yards, city parks and athletic fields. Blacklegged ticks get infected when they feed on these primary carriers and to a lesser degree, certain other small animals and birds. Deer are not carriers of the Lyme disease bacteria and do not get infected when blacklegged ticks feed on them.
In the U.S. alone, more than 300,000 infections of Lyme disease occur every year. Acorns are a favorite food of white-footed mice and grey squirrels. Due to recent bumper crops, experts predict 2017 could be the worst year ever for Lyme disease.
A Hard Threat to Spot
Most instances of Lyme disease are caused by immature ticks or nymphs no bigger than a poppy seed. Ticks at this stage are easy to miss and that is key in the transmission of Lyme disease. In most cases, an infected tick must be attached for 36-48 hours to transmit the disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Rash: A rash in a bull’s-eye pattern (a red outer ring surrounding a clear area). Some people develop this rash at more than one spot. Others never develop a rash or don’t notice it, as it may appear somewhere on the body that is covered by hair.
- Flu-like symptoms: Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, headache.
If Lyme disease is not treated with antibiotics, more serious complications can develop, including:
- Joint pain: Knees are especially likely to be affected.
- Neurological problems: Meningitis, temporary paralysis on one side of the face (Bell’s palsy) and numbness or weakness in limbs and muscles.
Maintain your yard to reduce your risk for Lyme disease:
- Keep grass mowed.
- Clear leaf litter and brush that can attract tick-infested rodents.
- Build fences to keep out deer.
- Prune trees and bushes.
- Move play sets away from woodland edges.
- Restrict ground cover that’s close to family activities.
- Try gravel pathways, decking, stone, etc. around the home. (Ticks don’t like to cross these surfaces.)
Protect yourself when in your yard or working outside:
- Wear light-colored clothing to help find ticks more easily.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear a hat in areas with lots of vegetation.
- Wear closed footwear and socks. Tuck pants into socks.
- Use a repellent with DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (on clothing and gear). Some clothing can also be purchased pre-treated. Treated items can remain protective through several washings. (Always wash them separately from other laundry.)
- Inspect your body immediately after being outdoors. Pay special attention to:
- In and around ears
- Behind knees
- Areas with body hair
- Navel and groin area
- Take a shower immediately after being outdoors.
- Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
- Check equipment, gear and pets for ticks outside.
- Wear gloves when handling dead animals.
- If you find a tick, remove it immediately. If at work, inform your employer so other workers in your crew know to check themselves.
- If you develop flu-like symptoms or a rash, contact your doctor immediately.
The LHSFNA’s Health Alert on Lyme disease provides information that Laborers can use to help protect against all tick-borne illnesses. To order this and other Fund publications, go to www.lhsfna.org and click on Publications. The CDC offers a manual with more information on all of the tick-borne diseases in North America.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]