The deer tick (also known as the blacklegged
tick), is present throughout Massachusetts and
may be infected with several human diseases, including Lyme disease (LD) which
is common in New England.
Two principal ticks of Massachusetts
Two tick species common in the state are the deer tick and the American dog
tick. Only the deer tick transmits Lyme disease; the American dog tick has not
been implicated as an LD vector, but may transmit other diseases such as
tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The deer tick has a two-year life cycle that
includes three feeding stages known as the larva, nymph and adult. Generally,
larvae and nymphs feed on a small mammal, like a field mouse, while adult ticks
feed no larger mammals, including white-tailed deer. The risk period for humans
is highest during the nymph stage from May-July, as these tiny ticks may be
infective, are difficult to see and are present when people are active outdoors.
Adult ticks may also be infective and are active from fall through spring.
Thus, there is risk of a tick bite throughout the year.
The typical deer tick habitat is near the
ground within a wooded tract such as a conservation or recreational area. Ticks
may also be encountered in backyards or along bicycle trails. Pets should be
checked on a regular basis, as ticks can hitchhike and thus be moved
considerable distances. Contact your veterinarian for more information about
Prevention begins with you
If you hike, work or walk outdoors, especially during the high-risk period,
wear light colored clothing, tick your cuffs into socks and inspect your legs
every hour. Use products labeled to repel or kill ticks. One ingredient is
known as DEET, (use a concentration between 30-35% for adults and 10-15% for
children). Other products contain PERMETHRIN and are applied to clothing, then
permitted to dry before wearing. Never use these products on infants; use with
caution on children, and never apply it on the child’s face. Following
the outdoor activity, inspect your body carefully for ticks, and put worn
clothing into a hot dryer for ten minutes.
Ticks must be attached for at least 24 hours before they transmit LD;
therefore, it is critical to remove a tick immediately and properly. Do not use
petroleum jelly, gasoline, nail polish remover, etc., to dislodge the tick.
Instead, extract promptly by grasping it near the head with fine tipped
tweezers. Pull straight out with steady pressure. Avoid twisting; when the tick
it out, apply an antiseptic to the site. Circle the calendar date when the tick
was removed and save the tick for identification.
The bite of the deer tick to a human may transmit Lyme
disease, but not all deer ticks carry it. For about 60% of patients, the early
stage of the LD begins with an increasing, circular red rash.
Other symptoms of early LD may include:
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
If untreated, the disease can spread
throughout the body. Chronic LD can be very debilitating. If you suspect a tick
bite to have symptoms, see your physician. Note that the deer tick may also
transmit other infections such as babesia and/or ehrlichia. All three of these diseases are reportable in Massachusetts.
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