As awareness around Lyme disease continues to grow around the world, people are trying to become more educated about the condition and how it’s contracted. Although acceptance has grown, there is still a lot of mystery surrounding Lyme disease (including what the actual symptoms are and how to protect yourself from getting sick). In order to erase some of the confusion, here’s some information that might help you better understand and prevent Lyme disease, including a list of the most common vectors of Lyme disease.
What is Lyme disease?
This condition is an infectious disease that is transmitted through bites from a tick carrying specific bacteria that causes Lyme. After being bitten by a tick that’s a Lyme carrier, people can experience a number of different symptoms: a bullseye rash, joint and muscle pain, extreme fatigue, flu-like symptoms, etc. Individuals can also experience psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Because these symptoms can look a lot like other conditions (especially arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, traditional depression etc.), Lyme disease can be misdiagnosed quite often. When diagnosed correctly, treatment can include antibiotics. However, if left untreated, Lyme disease can progress into a more severe, chronic condition that can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system. The overall symptoms of chronic Lyme disease can become quite debilitating and life-altering for many people.
Lyme disease began catching people’s attention back in the 1970s in the U.S. During this time, a number of both children and adults living in Lyme, Connecticut started experiencing the same symptoms (including skin rashes and chronic fatigue). It was difficult to get a proper diagnosis for years, until 1981 when a scientist, Willy Burgdorfer, saw a connection between tick bites and the condition. Since this time, reports of Lyme disease have continued to rise around the world. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. named Lyme disease as one of the top 10 notifiable diseases.
How do you contract Lyme disease?
Because the condition can be so damaging (both physically and emotionally) to the individuals who suffer from it, it’s imperative that people understand how you actually contract Lyme. Many people have the question, ‘Do only ticks cause Lyme?’ Ticks are, in fact, the culprit you need to worry about. You can contract Lyme from a tick that bites you (which you might not even feel when it happens). Ticks latch onto your skin and feed, which causes the transmission of the Borrelia bacteria that causes Lyme. If you see a tick on your skin, immediately remove it with tweezers or with a specific tick removal kit that can be found in stores or online.
What are the most common vectors of Lyme disease?
A vector is an organism (such as a biting insect or tick) that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal or plant to another. Ticks are the main vector of Lyme disease. They’re divided into two families: Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks). In Europe, the most common vectors of Lyme disease are these types of ticks:
- Ixodes ricinus (sheep tick or castor bean tick) – The most common culprit of Lyme disease in Europe. They’re the most likely to feed on many different kinds of mammals, and most importantly, humans!
- Ixodes hexagonus (hedgehog tick)
- Ixodes canisuga (fox or badger tick)
- Dermacentor reticulatus (ornate cow tick) – can bite humans, but it’s pretty rare
- Rhipicephalus sanguineus (brown dog tick) – found most often in warmer climates
- Ixodes scapularis (deer tick) – the most common tick in the U.S.
Can other insects carry Lyme disease?
If you’ve ever wondered ‘Do mosquitoes carry Lyme disease?’, you’re not alone. Although not as common, Lyme borreliosis can be transmitted by other stinging and biting insects besides ticks. Research from Finland (Universities of Helsinki and Turku) and from the Senkenbergschen Foundation in Frankfurt have confirmed mosquitoes as a potential vector for Lyme borreliosis, as well as some spiders and Brachycera (biting flies, such as the horsefly or deerfly).
What can you do to protect yourself from tick bites?
Luckily, there are some easy steps you can take to make sure you’re lowering your risk of being bitten by a tick.
- Wear protective clothing. When you’re out in nature, wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Put on trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a hat to help protect you. Wear closed-toe shoes and even tuck your socks into your trousers to ensure that you’re not leaving any skin unprotected.
- Use insecticide. Spray a tick repellent on whatever skin is still showing after you’ve gotten dressed, or consider using a permethrin product to treat your clothes with as an additional repellent.
- Avoid wooded areas and other tick hangouts. If you’re going for a hike or walk in the woods, make sure to stick to clear paths and avoid walking in areas with long grass or brush.
- Protect your home. Clear away any brush or lawn clippings that might be hotspots for ticks. Likewise, woodpiles or stone walls also might attract ticks, so make sure you’re careful around these areas.
- Steer clear of wild animals. Because animals like deer, mice and chipmunks can all be carriers for ticks, you’ll want to make sure you’re not near any wildlife that might get ticks too close to you.
When you arrive home from being outside, remember to always thoroughly examine your skin for signs of any ticks (especially in hard-to-see areas like the backs of your knees and your neck or scalp). If you see a tick, safely remove it right away. Then head immediately to a doctor if you believe you’ve been bitten. They can help advise you on what specific symptoms to look out for or immediately start you on a proper treatment regimen if it looks like you might have contracted Lyme disease.
While insects can be bothersome pests, the really dangerous ones you need to watch out for are ticks. If you want to make sure you don’t contract Lyme disease, follow the tips above and be cautious any time you’re in an environment where ticks may be present.
- https://edoc.ub.uni-muenchen.de/14131/1/Poljak_Sabine.pdf (Document page 18 / 2.4.4)