Look Out for Lyme Disease Awareness Month

May is here and June is fast approaching, and we’re getting outside to enjoy the spring weather. But as we get outdoors, the risk of encountering ticks increases and with increased tick exposure, the risk of Lyme disease increases.

Lyme disease is a serious disease in Virginia and is prevalent in suburban regions of the northern and western parts of Virginia. This includes higher mountainous areas of the state and areas along the coast where temperatures are mild. It is spread by the bite of the blacklegged tick (aka deer tick), which is common in these parts of Virginia.

To draw the public’s attention to the disease, May is designated as Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

Ticks thrive in suburban forests where there are domestic and wild animals. Deer are the most important animal contributing to tick reproduction as adult male and female ticks meet and mate on the deer. Deer also serve as the last meal for female ticks and the blood they consume is necessary for egg production. Leaf packs and yard debris make excellent wildlife habitats, and pressure from hunting and predators is minimal.

Blacklegged ticks can be found primarily in:

  • Forests
  • Along the forest edge
  • Shaded grassy areas
  • Tall brush

Lyme disease cannot be transferred from one animal to another; the only way an animal can get the disease is from a tick bite. Blacklegged nymphs, which are about the size of a poppy seed, are the life stage most likely to bite people and transmit this disease. The potential for infection exists year-round but is most common in the spring and summer months when the climate is warm and humid. The earliest sign of possible infection is a “bulls-eye” rash around the site of the tick bite. Other early symptoms include a constant headache, a fever, joint or muscle pain, and fatigue.

If it’s left untreated, Lyme disease can cause the following symptoms:

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Pain in the tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Rashes on other areas of the body
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, especially in the knees and other large joints
  • Facial palsy with the facial muscles drooping on one side
  • Nerve pain and shooting paints, numbness, or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and/or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord

If you’ve been outside, hiking or camping, it’s important to check yourself for ticks and remove any you find immediately. If you find a tick and are unsure how long it has been on your body, preserve the tick in rubbing alcohol. If you notice any of the early symptoms of infection, consult with your healthcare provide as soon as possible. If you have symptoms, it’s possible with early treatment to avoid any long-term affects of Lyme disease. The Virginia Department of Health offers tick identification through the Virginia Tick Survey.

Learn more about ticks and the diseases they’re associated with, check out the VDH tick resource page.