Many people have heard and fear the diagnosis of Lyme disease due to all the negative complexities associated with the illness. (It is called Lyme disease because the first case was discovered in 1977 in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It is not named after a person, so it is NOT Lyme’s disease). There are over 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease diagnosed each year in the United States, with the most cases reported in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans by bites from the black-legged tick, which is also commonly referred to as the deer tick. It’s the same tick, species Ixodes scapularius.
Until June of this year, Nebraska did not have established populations of black-legged ticks. Cases of Lyme disease reported in Nebraska were rare and attributed to tick bites from outside the state in by human or animal travelers. In June 2019, state health officials identified established populations in Douglas, Sarpy, and Saunders Counties. What this means for trail runners is that there is no season free from ticks.
Black-legged tick identification
- Adult ticks can be up to 1/8-inch long.
- Unfed females have orange-red body with black scutum.
- An engorged female tick has a black scutum and black legs.
- Larvae have only six legs and are called seed ticks and are extremely teeny-tiny (1/32-inch long).
- Nymphs are the size of a poppy seed (1/16-inch long) with eight legs.
- Life cycle can take two years
High tick season in Nebraska is generally April and May for American dog ticks and lone star ticks, but the black-legged ticks are most active from October to March, when the ground is not frozen.
Ticks undergo three life stages: Larva, nymph and adult, where each stage requires a blood meal from a host, before it drops off to molt to the next stage. Larval ticks are not infected when they emerge from eggs, which means they must acquire it from an infected host whether it is a mouse, chipmunk or squirrel. The most cases of Lyme disease are transmitted from May through July by nymphal ticks. When a tick attaches to a host, it prepares to feed, so there is a delayed time of approximately 36 hours when it can transmit the bacteria. Perform a tick check as soon as you finish your activity and remove any embedded ticks to prevent disease transmission.
Detecting the bacteria in the blood is difficult because it disseminates into the tissues of the body. Ticks themselves, can be tested for Lyme disease, so it is important to keep ticks that have been removed from the body for pathogen testing. If you were bitten by a tick and suffer adverse reactions, be sure to notify your physician, so they can order the proper series of complicated tests for Lyme disease. Treatment for Lyme disease requires antibiotics in the early stages and the majority of infected people recover rapidly and completely. To read more about Lyme Disease: CDC website at www.cdc.gov/lyme.
The best way to prevent contracting Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. Here are some things you can do this winter:
- Continue to treat your pet throughout the winter with products prescribed by your veterinarian.
- Perform frequent tick checks of people and pets during activities and after coming inside or into vehicle.
- Wear permethrin-treated shoes and socks when temperatures rise above 50°F
- Dry outdoor clothing in clothes dryer for 30 minutes on high to kill hitchhiking ticks.
- Shower and perform thorough tick check of all crevices.
- Remove ticks by grasping them as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and pulling straight out. Hold on to your tick (plastic bag in freezer) to have it identified or tested.
When someone asks if tick season is over, the answer is “nope.” GOATz run year-round, and ticks bite year-round, so please practice tick safety and check yourself after every run!