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Lyme Disease Prevention: How to Lower Your Risk of This Infection

Fact Checked

Adult Tick

Story at-a-glance -

  • Taking the right precautions, particularly before gardening, hiking, camping or playing outdoors, can help you avoid Lyme disease
  • The first line of defense is a thorough daily tick check after being outdoors. Removing the ticks as quickly as possible can reduce your risk of infection, as bacteria are not transmitted until a tick has been attached to your skin for at least 24 hours
  • You may get a small reddish bump after getting bitten by a tick, although this is usually not a sign that you have Lyme disease

Lyme disease cases have tripled in the country since the late 1990s, infecting approximately 300,000 Americans each year.1,2 According to historical data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highest number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease occur in July, with up to 54,000 infected individuals recorded in that month during the years 2001-2017.3

Over the past 20 years, the number of countries with blacklegged ticks has also doubled. Additionally, the number of counties in the northeastern and upper Midwestern U.S. that are considered at high risk for Lyme disease has increased by more than 300%.4 Despite these alarming reports, taking the right precautions, particularly before gardening, hiking, camping or playing outdoors, can help you avoid Lyme disease.5

Know Where Ticks Lurk

The rapid spread of ticks that transmit Lyme disease across the U.S. is the primary reason this health problem is so prevalent today. Ticks, particularly blacklegged ticks or deer ticks (the ticks that cause Lyme disease), live in moist, humid and shady areas, such as bushy spaces at ground level. They usually cling to tall grasses and shrubs.6

Ticks cannot jump or fly. They wait until humans or animals brush by the grass or foliage where they’re hiding, and immediately latch onto their leg or clothing. If you are in tick-infested areas, walk at the center of trails to avoid leaf litter and overgrown grass.7

Check for Ticks Daily

The first line of defense is a thorough daily tick check after being outdoors. Removing the ticks as quickly as possible can reduce your risk of infection, as bacteria are not transmitted until a tick has been attached to your skin for more than 24 hours. In most cases, it takes 36 to 48 hours for the bacteria to be transmitted.8 Check your clothing and pets for ticks, and take extra precaution when checking these parts of your body:9

  • In and around all head and body hair
  • In and around the ears
  • Under the arms
  • Around the knees
  • Between the legs

According to the CDC, you should avoid areas of thick vegetation and bathe after being outdoors to avoid contact with Lyme disease-carrying ticks.10

Remove Ticks Safely

If you find a tick attached to you, grasp it as close to the surface of your skin as possible using a fine-tipped tweezer. Do not touch or remove it with your bare hands. Gently pull the tick straight up and out. If you jerk, squeeze or twist the tick, this can cause parts of the mouth to break off, which may cause infection. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.11 To kill any remaining ticks, tumble clothes in the dryer on high heat for 60 minutes.12

Be Alert for Lyme Symptoms

You may get a small reddish bump after being bitten by a tick, although this is usually not a sure sign that you have Lyme disease. Be sure to watch out for possible signs and symptoms of infection in the next few days, such as fever and the “bull’s-eye” rash. Do the same even if you don’t remember being bitten by a tick (they numb your skin so you may not even feel the bite), especially if you have been to a tick-infested area recently.13

MORE ABOUT LYME DISEASE

Lyme Disease: Introduction

What Is Lyme Disease?

Is Lyme Disease Contagious?

Lyme Disease Causes

Lyme Disease Stages

Lyme Disease Symptoms

Lyme Disease Treatment

Lyme Disease Prevention

Lyme Disease Test

Lyme Disease Diet

Lyme Disease FAQ

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