Not every tick is infected with Lyme disease.
The number of ticks that carry the inflammatory disease first identified in Lyme, Conn. is about 25 percent, according to a recent five-year study by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES), which collected and tested 6,700 of the Constitution State bloodsuckers.
But for a state that has "millions and millions of ticks, the percentage is still an awful lot of ticks," said Randall Nelson, an epidemiologist with the Department of Public Health (DPH).
“Arizona has rattlesnakes, we have ticks,” he said. “Pretty much everywhere in Connecticut is considered an endemic area.”
Ticks contract Lyme disease by biting into animals with the illness.
And as the height of tick season approaches in June – when ticks in the second stage (nymph) of a three-stage, two-year life seek a second blood meal – the chance of people getting Lyme disease from an infected tick is the highest, said Kirby Stafford, vice director and chief entomologist at CAES.
June is also the time when larvae hatch and begin to look for the first blood meal. Ticks need three such feedings to mature to an adult. Nelson said ticks in this first stage of their life are hard to spot because they are so small.
“They don’t hurt when they’re on you,” he said. “You don’t recognize them.”
The epidemiologist said once ticks mature into the third and final stage (adult) they have a greater chance of carrying Lyme disease but are easier to spot and feel because they are larger.
The type of tick that crawls rampant in Connecticut is called the blacklegged or “deer” tick. Nelson said ticks have “ideal conditions” in the state because of rural areas with a large amount of small rodents and deer for the arachnids to latch onto. It just so happens that a lot of Connecticut residents live in these rural areas, he said.
After a tick with Lyme disease fastens onto a person's skin, it takes 36 to 48 hours to get the bacteria into the bloodstream, according to Stafford.
If treated early, Lyme disease is usually cured after about a month of antibiotics, said Nelson. Some of the common symptoms of Lyme disease include fatigue, muscle ache, fever and an expanding bullseye rash, he said.
However, if the disease goes unnoticed and untreated – symptoms can start weeks to months after the initial transmission – more severe manifestations can develop, such as cardiac issues, arthritis and neurological problems, said Nelson.
“Last year, of the confirmed cases [reported to the DPH by doctors] about 50 percent had one or more of the late stage problems,” he said, adding that arthritis was the most common.
Nelson said kids under 10 and people over 60 have been found to have increased rates of Lyme disease because the two groups go longer without recognizing the tick on their skin.
Both Nelson and Stafford agreed that the number one way to prevent contracting Lyme disease is to check yourself for ticks – and check often.
Click here for more tips on avoiding ticks and preventing Lyme disease.