University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
AVOID LYME DISEASE WHILE GARDENING
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Lyme disease is a potentially
disabling disease of joints and the nervous system, spread by deer ticks. It is important to know about this disease,
how it is spread, and steps to avoid it, as gardeners may come into contact
with these ticks.
This previously unknown disease was
first found on children in Lyme,
Connecticut in 1975. It was given its current name, ticks were
identified as the vector spreading it, and in the early 1980’s research
identified the cause as a spirochete bacterium.
It has since become the most reported vector-borne disease in the
country. It is prevalent in the
Northeast, parts of the Midwest, and parts of
the Northwest. While southern New
England areas are high risk, much of the rest of New
England is moderate risk with only the most northern parts low
Although this disease is rarely
fatal, it can cause debilitating illness including heart irregularities, facial
paralysis, and impairment of the nervous system. Early symptoms to watch for include minor
symptoms such as skin rash, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint pain. Very characteristic is a skin rash called
“erythema migrans”. This rash appears as
a red circular patch at the site of a tick bite within three days to one
month. As it enlarges, this patch often
takes on a “doughnut” or “bulls eye” appearance. As ticks like warm spots, parts of the body
to watch are thighs, groin, trunk, and armpits.
Of course many tick bites will cause
an allergic reaction, but shouldn’t be confused with the symptoms of Lyme
disease. Such non-serious allergic
reactions appear within a few hours or days,
do not expand or have the bulls-eye feature, and disappear in a few days.
Although there are no vaccines to prevent
Lyme disease, it can be treated with antibiotics once diagnosed.
Prompt treatment, however, is important. Early treatment usually
results in full and
rapid recovery. Permanent damage may
occur if treatment is in the very late stages.
Although three types of ticks can
carry the disease, the deer ticks get the most mention. Ticks feed on small rodents, birds, and deer
that may carry the Lyme disease but not be affected by it. This is where the ticks pick up the bacteria,
and then transmit it to humans. If a
tick bites a human and remains attached for 24 to 48 hours, the bacteria may
spread into the bloodstream and begin to cause the above symptoms.
Avoiding places where ticks
live or checking for tick bites if you are in such areas is a primary means of
prevention of Lyme disease. Ticks like
cool, wet places such as wooded areas, piles of debris, and high grasses. If you garden in or around such areas, watch
for ticks and tick bites. Any other
activities in such areas are also at risk, such as camping, hiking, fishing,
hunting, or walking pets.
Since a tick must remain attached for a
day or two to cause infection, frequent checking for ticks if you’re in high
risk areas is important. Ticks are
active in spring through fall, but most active in mid-summer. If you find ticks, remember not all carry
this disease. The Rhode Island
Department of Health has some excellent information online to identify ticks,
as well as much more on this disease (www.health.ri.gov/disease/communicable/lyme).
No matter what kind of tick you find, you
probably want to remove it. DO NOT try
to remove it with heat as from a match, or alcohol. This will only irritate the tick and cause it
to more quickly insert more toxin.
Instead, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the mouthparts of
the tick as close to the skin as possible, and firmly pull straight out.
to prevent tick bites, in addition to avoiding their habitats, include:
light-colored clothing so you can spot ticks more easily.
long-sleeved shirts and pants to minimize exposure.
pant legs inside socks or boots to keep ticks on the outside.
an insect repellent containing 20 to 30 percent DEET, 10 percent for
children. Follow label instructions and
safety precautions when using.
being outdoors in high risk areas, inspect body surfaces closely. Place clothes in a hot drier to kill any
ticks if on clothes.
Even if you don’t live or walk in a high
risk area, ticks can catch rides into your yard on animal hosts such as deer
and mice. Many areas now have deer in
landscapes. A white-tailed deer can
carry hundreds of ticks year round.
About 70 percent of people that contract Lyme disease catch it from
ticks in their own yards. Tips to
minimize ticks in your landscape include:
your yard clean and free of debris, grass clippings, and leaf litter.
grass mowed, especially along property edges.
shrubs near walks and patios, and keep groundcovers away from these and play
a three-foot wide barrier, three inches deep, between lawns and wooded areas
using gravel, mulch, or wood chips.
woodpiles away from gardens and lawns.
you have deer nearby, or visiting your landscape, begin deer-proofing
techniques. There are some articles on
this on this website (perrysperennials.info).
Return to Perry's Perennial