Do All Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

by Shelley Frost
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If you live in the Eastern U.S. or Canada, you’re no stranger to warnings about ticks during the summer months. Hopefully, you heed these warnings and take steps to prevent tick bites, like wearing tall socks and avoiding wooded areas.

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You likely take these precautions not just to avoid insect bites, but to avoid Lyme disease, the main tickborne illness. But do all ticks carry Lyme disease?

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What Is Lyme Disease?

The main thing to know is that ticks don’t cause Lyme disease, but they may be carriers of the disease. Lyme disease is an illness caused by bacteria that you contract from infected ticks. During the bite from the infected tick, the bacteria go under your skin, where they cause an infection. The early symptoms are more annoying than anything, but advanced symptoms in untreated Lyme disease can create serious, chronic health conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease progresses through three stages, which sometimes overlap. If you receive early treatment, you might not go through all three stages.

Stage 1 Symptoms

Stage 1 symptoms start three to 30 days after you're bitten by an infected tick. It's still localized at this point, and many of the symptoms could be due to several causes. The most distinct symptom is the bulls-eye rash that often develops around the bite mark. About 70% to 80% of people infected with Lyme disease have this rash. It gradually grows larger, moving out from the bite mark, sometimes growing to be up to 12 inches wide. The skin in the middle sometimes clears, which gives it the bulls-eye look. It sometimes feels warm to the touch, but the rash won't typically cause you any pain or itching.

Additional symptoms at this point often mimic what you might feel if you have the flu. You might experience:

  • Fever and chills
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Stiff neck
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sore throat

Stage 2 Symptoms

If you go weeks or months without treatment, you could reach Stage 2, which is early disseminated Lyme disease. This means the effects are becoming more widespread, so the symptoms could start reaching other areas. You could still have the early symptoms but might also notice:

  • Rashes on other parts of the body
  • Facial paralysis or muscle weakness
  • Vision issues or eye pain
  • Swelling around your eyes or eyelids
  • Heart problems, including palpitations or chest pain
  • Pain and numbness in your feet and hands

Stage 3 Symptoms

Your condition will progress to Stage 3 if you still don't receive treatment. This is the late disseminated disease where the illness can affect your entire body and nervous system. It usually happens two to 12 months after the initial tick bite. The effects are often more severe and can become chronic at this point. Additional symptoms you might experience include:

  • Arthritis in your large joints, such as knees
  • Neuropathy, which causes numbness and pain in nerves throughout the body
  • Difficult concentrating
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Insomnia

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How Do You Contract Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease comes from bacteria, which humans contract after getting bitten by an infected tick. The ticks usually get the bacteria after they feed on rodents that are infected. The bite allows the bacteria to enter your body, where it can cause the infection to develop.

Do All Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

Not all types of ticks carry Lyme disease. It's only certain species of ticks, and not all ticks of that specific type are infected. You can only contract Lyme disease if the specific tick that bit you was infected with the bacteria.

What Kinds of Ticks Carry Lyme Disease?

The only type of ticks that spread it are deer ticks, also called blacklegged ticks. You're more likely to contract Lyme disease from the nymph deer ticks, which are the immature ones and are roughly the size of a pinhead or a poppy seed. While deer ticks live in most parts of the United States, you're more likely to get the infection in the upper Midwest, northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Areas with tall grass, brush and woods are most common for these ticks.

Tips for Protecting Yourself From Lyme Disease

You're most likely to get a tick bite when you're outdoors in grassy, brushy, wooded areas, and your legs and feet are common spots for ticks to bite. If you can't avoid being outdoors, you can cut your risk of tick bites with these tips:

  • Apply tick repellent on clothes and gear.
  • Cover as much of your skin as possible, tucking your pants into your socks to keep ticks away.
  • Dress in light colors so ticks are easier to spot.
  • Shower immediately if possible.
  • Check all over your body for ticks, keeping in mind the nymphs are tiny.
  • Toss clothes and gear in the dryer, if possible, for 10 minutes or more to kill ticks.
  • Check your pets for ticks that could get in your house.

If you find a tick or notice early symptoms of Lyme disease, go to your doctor immediately for an evaluation. Early treatment could prevent the more severe effects.

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