FACTS: First identified in the 1970's in the United States near Lyme, Connecticut, Lyme Disease is now one of the most commonly reported tick-borne illnesses.
The Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium was identified as the cause of the disease in the early 1980's, though DNA-analysis of rodents and ticks in museum collections demonstrates that the bacterium has existed for centuries, if not millennia. Blacklegged ticks (or deer ticks) pass the bacterium from small animals to humans.
Although common symptoms include aches, fevers, and fatigue, the signature symptom is an expanding, bull's-eye rash (or EM, erythema migrans). Typically, the rash spreads out from the site of the tick bite, appearing anywhere from a few days to a month after the bite. As the rash grows, the origin fades leaving a ring that resembles a bull's-eye.
When the signature rash is present and tick-exposure is presumed, antibiotic treatment is recommended. However, the rash develops in only 80% of cases, so where symptoms and tick-exposure warrant further medical examination, laboratory testing is also available.
Untreated, Lyme disease can lead to arthritis, facial paralysis, meningitis, and even cognitive disruptions such as memory loss and mood changes. So when you're in the country, keep an eye out for ticks, or you could end up a target.
FACTS: In most of the world’s dark woods and grassy plains, tiny ticks are questing in search of blood. These little vampires can be as small as pinpoints or as large as grapes – but they have an uncanny ability to sense heat and carbon dioxide, and to identify the well-travelled paths that their victims are likely to traverse. When they sense the motion of a nearby host, they drop from the tips of grasses or leaves and plunge their barbed, fang-like hypostome into their victim’s neck (or any other convenient spot) and lap up to hundreds of times their body-weight until they are sated. Or removed.
A kind of arthropod, ticks are not insects but arachnids related to scorpions and spiders. Hard ticks (such as deer ticks and dog ticks) have a plate-like scutum protecting their backs which gives them the comfort to feed for hours or days. Because diseases such as tularemia, Lyme disease, and Rocky- Mountain Spotted Fever tend not to be transmitted until dessert, there is often time to remove discovered ticks before lasting harm has been done. (Soft ticks, on the other hand, eat and run, dropping off after barely an hour.)
To remove a tick, folk remedies involving heated pins, matches, or gasoline are best avoided – they can provoke the tick into regurgitating part of its meal, and infection along with it. Instead, the tick should be grasped with a tweezers as close to the skin as possible, flipped onto its back (slowly, so as not to dislodge the “head”, or mouthparts, in the skin), and then gently pulled until it is removed. But resist the temptation to drive a stake through its heart as that can help spread disease as well. A bath of alcohol should allow you to discard a tick safely – perhaps with a clove of garlic.