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Do you enjoy spending time in nature — hiking, exploring woodland, or even going for a picnic in the park? Watch out for ticks. These tiny arachnids feed on mammal blood, and you could be the next target. Ticks can make their way onto your body, latch on, and stick around for days without you even noticing. That thought is enough to make anyone queasy, but ticks can also transmit Lyme Disease, a nasty bacterial infection with potentially devastating consequences.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia Burgdorferi. Various tick species can be carriers, but the black legged tick (also called deer tick) is the most common one. The disease was named after the village of Old Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first discovered back in 1975. The village's children spent a lot of their time playing outside, and many got ill. Ticks carrying Borrelia Burgdorferi were eventually identified as the cause.
The North East of the United States is a prime example. Why? Some environments are better suited than others. Climate is an important factor: ticks do best in environments with at least 85 percent humidity that are warmer than 7 degrees Celsius/45 degrees Fahrenheit. The availability of mammal hosts ticks can feed on is another crucial factor. In The North East of the US, mammals like deer and mice are often in close proximity to humans, making them more available to ticks.
In order to understand how Lyme Disease spreads, it is important to be familiar with the tick's life cycle. The tick goes through four stages of life: egg, larva, nymph and adult. After the egg has hatched, a tick will need to feed (potentially on you!) during each life stage in order to continue developing.
A tick's timing is weather-dependent. In Northern-hemisphere countries, larvae will hatch during the early summer and feed. Once they drop off their host, they will take until late spring of the following year (May, June, and July) to emerge as nymphs. Nymphs tend to target small mammals and birds, but will molt into adults and reappear during the same year. It is adult ticks that usually target large mammals including humans. Adult ticks don't need to hibernate during the winter, which is why you will still need to check your body (and your cat and dog's) for their presence on warm winter days.
Adult ticks are both more likely to target humans and to be infected with B. Burgdorferi; they have, after all, already had two chances to get infected while feeding off a host. They also have one disadvantage. Since adult ticks are bigger than nymphs, you have a better chance of catching them before they manage to feed and infect you.