Massachusetts has become a hot spot for Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by the bite of an infected deer tick. The infection commonly attacks the heart, nervous system and joints with a variety of symptoms. Many of those who catch Lyme disease catch it in their own backyard. However, there are several ways to help protect yourself.
Although ticks can be active any time the temperature rises above freezing, they are most active during the warmer months beginning with spring. Young ticks (nymphs) are the size of a poppy seed and are usually most active between May and July; adult ticks are the size of a sesame seed and are most active in the fall and following spring. Their small size makes them difficult to spot on your body.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Early symptoms of Lyme disease may include a rash where the tick was attached or flu-like symptoms such as fever, swollen glands, joint pain or headache. However, while these symptoms may subside on their own, more serious problems can occur weeks to years later. Early treatment with antibiotics is important.
If left untreated, later stages of Lyme disease may include symptoms ranging from chronic joint pain or arthritis, nervous system complications similar to meningitis or Bell’s palsy, or heart problems.
Make your Backyard Safer
Nearly 70% of people who catch Lyme disease do so in their backyard. Protect yourself and your family by minimizing opportunities for ticks to thrive.
- Ticks are often carried into yards by animals, such as deer, chipmunks, birds and more. Minimize incentives for animals to visit by fencing-in vegetable gardens, and keeping flower beds and children’s play areas clean of debris, such as leaves, high grass and clippings, where animals tend to hide.
- Use a layer of mulch at least three-inches deep in play areas and walkways. The dry surface is unattractive to ticks. Trim bushes near walkways to keep paths clear.
- Pesticides can drastically reduce the amount of ticks in a yard. Apply a first coat in the spring, followed by a second mid-summer. Mahoney’s recommends Bonide Eight or Bonide Mosquito Beater. An organic alternative is Bonide Rotenone. If available, it’s best to apply the liquid form for best coverage on the ticks.
- Always use a repellent containing DEET anytime you go into an area where ticks may live. Wear light colored clothing to make ticks easier to spot. If possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants with socks tucked over the bottom. Once indoors, tick checks are important.
How to Remove a Tick
If you should find a tick attached to you, remove it as soon as possible. The tick usually must be attached for more than 24 hours to spread the bacteria. Never squeeze the tick. Use pointed tweezers to grasp as close to the skin as possible and pull-out straight.
Prevention within your own backyard is the first step anyone should take to help protect themselves and their family.
Links with Additional Information
For a Lyme Disease Fact Sheet from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health: Lyme.pdf
For information on where to get a tick tested for Lyme disease:
UMass Tick-borne Disease Diagnostics