Statistically affecting children 15 and under slightly more than the rest of the general population, Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) is caused by a bite from a black-legged tick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 300,000 people in the United States get bitten by this type of tick each year and develop Lyme disease. It usually goes away with antibiotics and it is rarely life-threatening if detected and treated early.
Black-legged ticks are found primarily in warm and moist environments and in and around wooded and grassy areas. In the United States, Lyme disease has been reported in every state. However, ideal conditions are often found in the upper mid-west, the Mid-Atlantic States, and throughout New England during late spring or early summer and through early autumn.
Anytime you're outdoors in the summer, there is a slight risk of being bitten by some type of insect. If you know you are going to be hiking, walking, or riding a bike around grassy or wooded areas, take precautions by wearing long pants socks that come up to your knees, or at least beyond your ankles to minimize the risk of being bitten by a tick that may transmit Lyme disease.
If you are at risk for exposure to ticks, err on the side of caution and perform daily tick checks. Use a hand-held mirror or a full-length mirror to check all parts of your body, including behind and inside your eyes, between your legs, and under your arms. Use tweezers to remove any ticks you may find. Grasp the tick as close to the surface of your skin as you can. Don't forget to check your clothing and any pets that may have been outdoors with you. Use soap and water or rubbing alcohol to clean the area where the tick was located and wash your hands thoroughly. After removing ticks, report any rash or fever that may develop later to your doctor. If you remove a live tick, don't crush it with your fingers. Instead, dip it in rubbing alcohol or place it in a sealed container or bag and get rid of it or flush it.
It's not always sensible to cover all exposed areas of skin while outside. For such situations, a spray repellent with at least a 20 percent concentration of DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) should be applied to the skin. Protection usually lasts several hours. It should be reapplied if part of your time outdoors will include swimming or exposure to water that may minimize protection.
In addition to being available as a topical cream, permethrin is also used to treat clothing and various materials commonly used outdoors, including canvas and other materials often used for tents and backpacks. Permethrin not only repels ticks and more than 50 other types of insects, but it also kills these insects. Treated clothing is considered safe and it's a convenient way to enjoy added protection against black-legged ticks while outdoors without worrying about periodically reapplying repellent.
If Lyme disease is left treated, it may spread to other parts of the body and contribute to problems affecting the lungs and heart or get into the central nervous system. Situations like this are very rare. Most people notice the initial rash or related pain where the tick bite occurred early enough to get treated and recover fully with no lasting health issues.