Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted by the lxodes tick, an insect also known in the Midwest region as the deer tick or the black-legged tick.
Historically, Lyme was primarily confined to the northeast – the disease was named for Lyme, CT – but today, cases are diagnosed throughout the United States as well as 60 other countries. Although Illinois is not one of the top states for confirmed Lyme disease cases, Wisconsin is.
Deer, mice and other animals in the wild act as efficient hosts and ready transportation for ticks, which are tiny, generally about the size of a poppy seed.
How do you pick up a tick? In an infested area, it’s possible to get a tick bite whether your skin is covered or uncovered. Generally, walking in wooded settings with more plant life or exposure to tick-carrying animals presents more risk, but covering up head-to-toe doesn’t always guarantee freedom from infection.
If you fear you’ve walked in a tick-infested area, experts advise that clothing be tumbled in a hot dryer for at least 15 minutes before they’re washed – hot water won’t necessarily kill ticks but high heat will.
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease? They can vary greatly from one person to the next and also depend on the length of time the person has been infected. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, signals include:
- A ring-like red rash occurs in 70-80% of the cases beginning from three days to 32 days after the bite of an infected tick.
- The red rash at the bite site is circular and grows larger over a few days or weeks and is generally not painful.
- The rash is accompanied by one or more nonspecific symptoms: fatigue, chills and fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and joint and muscle pain.
If you see the tick on your skin, here’s how to remove it.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
When should you go to the doctor? If symptoms emerge and you spot a rash, call for an appointment. Depending on the severity and length of the case, oral antibiotics may suffice, but intravenous antibiotics may be necessary if the disease has gone untreated. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection currently recommends a two-step laboratory testing process for Lyme disease.
Other helpful resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Main Lyme disease page
- Lyme disease FAQ
- Lyme disease communications toolkit
- Tickborne Diseases of the United States/Manual for Health Care Providers
Illinois Department of Public Health:
- June 2022 Update: IDPH Warns Public to Avoid Tick Bites as Summer Season Gets Underway
- Learn about tick removal and symptom awareness
University of Illinois: