Tips for avoiding ticks in Iowa. What you need to know about Lyme disease

When Iowans go out to enjoy spring, they should take precautions to avoid ticks.

Ticks thrive in wooded or grassy areas, and many people catch them while gardening, hiking, or participating in other outdoor activities.

Ticks carry several diseases, including Lyme disease, a dangerous neurological disease.

Confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease in Iowa rose from 93 in 2010 to 201 in 2014 and 356 last year, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Of the cases reported last year, 84 were confirmed.

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How to avoid ticks

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the best way to avoid ticks is to stay away from infested areas. The agency offers these tips for avoiding ticks and the diseases they carry:

  • When going to wooded areas or places with tall grass, wear light-colored long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks or boots.
  • Stay on trails when walking or hiking and avoid tall grass.
  • Use insect repellents. Repellents containing DEET should be used at concentrations no higher than 15% for children and 30% for adults, according to the IDPH. (DEET is not recommended for infants.) Permethrin is a repellent that can only be applied to clothing, not to exposed skin, says IDPH.
  • Check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks as soon as you get home. Ticks tend to prefer the back of the knee, the armpits, the scalp, the groin and the back of the neck.

How to remove a tick?

If you find a tick on your skin, you need to remove it quickly.

The best way to do this is to grab it with tweezers by its mouthparts, which are close to the host’s skin. Do not squeeze the tick’s body. Pull steadily and directly away from the skin until the tick detaches, suggests IDPH.

Once removed, clean the resulting wound and disinfect the bite site.

Do not use folk remedies, such as burning the tick with a match or covering it with petroleum jelly, as these can cause the tick to regurgitate, increasing the risk of infection from bacteria that ticks carry, says the ‘IDPH.

A blacklegged tick, or deer tick, under a microscope.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick.

What causes Lyme disease?

According to IDPH, ticks are most likely to spread Lyme disease bacteria during their pre-adult (nymph) stage. Nymphs, which are brown, small and hard to see, are most common from May to July.

After attaching them to a host, ticks feed on the host’s blood until they are swollen to several times their normal size. IDPH reports that scientific data suggests that ticks must remain attached for 24 to 48 hours before the host becomes infected with the bacteria.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease affects various parts of the body, says IDPH. Not everyone with Lyme disease has the same symptoms.

The best and earliest sign of infection is a rash, called erythema migrans, which appears in 60-80% of patients, according to IDPH. The EM rash usually appears at the site of the tick bite within a few days to a month. At first it will be a small red bump. The redness spreads over the next few days and begins to look like a bull’s eye.

If left untreated, multiple EM rashes can appear within three to five weeks of the tick bite, says IDPH. The appearance of more than one rash is a sign that the infection has spread through the blood.

According to the IDPH, additional symptoms may include:

  • Mild eye infections
  • Paralysis of facial muscles
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Abnormal heart rhythm (in less than 10% of cases)

The IDPH indicates that later symptoms of Lyme disease can appear months after infection and last for years. Symptoms can include:

  • Recurrent arthritis, usually in the knees and shoulders
  • Mood, sleep or memory problems
  • Paralysis of facial muscles
  • Pain or tingling in the extremities
  • Meningitis and encephalitis

How is Lyme disease treated?

Most people treated in the early stages of Lyme disease typically recover quickly and completely, according to IDPH. Treatment may include antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has more information about the types of Lyme disease and their treatment.

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