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Lyme Disease & Ticks

- A serious tick-borne disease -

Summary: Certain ticks carry and spread a serious bacterial disease called Lyme Disease. The disease organisms are transmitted when ticks bite to feed on blood. Both people and pets are susceptible to this disease so effective action should be taken to protect against tick bites.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Lyme Disease (also called Lyme borreliosis) is caused by a bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that may be transmitted when certain ticks in the genus Ixodes [more tick pictures] bite. The name "Lyme" comes from the town in Connecticut, USA where it was first found in the US. The disease was originally described in Germany in the late 1800's.

Ticks that carry Lyme Disease

Two tick species are primarily responsible for transmission of the Lyme Disease pathogen to humans in North America. One is common throughout the central and eastern US [picture of Ixodes scapularis] and the other is common along the Pacific coast and in other western states (right). Both feed on mammals, birds, and lizards as well as humans.

common misspellings: lime disease

Lyme disease tick - Ixodes
                                  pacificus

Western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus. Transmits Lyme disease in western US. Photo is black and white, actual coloration is red and black.


Ticks acquire the microorganisms that cause Lyme Disease when they feed on an infected animal such as a mouse or deer. When infected ticks feed they may transfer these organisms to the next host. Some reports indicate that ticks must be attached and feeding for at least 24 hours before disease transmission is likely to occur which is why prompt removal of ticks is so important.

Animal reservoirs of Lyme Disease

An animal reservoir is the species in which a disease organism, in this case the Lyme Disease bacterium, resides and serves as the source of the pathogen. For example, rodents are the animal reservoir for the Plague bacterium and fleas spread the Plague between rodents and humans.

Increased incidence of Lyme Disease in central and eastern states in the US may be related to the increased abundance of white-tailed deer, and ticks, and their proximity to housing developments. Mice, and the ticks that live on them, are also suspects in transmission of Lyme Disease.


What to do about tick bites

Remove ticks immediately when found because this greatly reduces the chance that disease organisms will be transferred from tick to you (see How to Safely Remove Ticks). Also, use insect repellents during summer if your activity takes you into tick habitat. Check yourself and pets carefully for ticks after visiting areas with tall grass or brush. If a rash develops and grows around the tick bite seek medical attention immediately. Lyme Disease is highly treatable with antibiotics when detected early -- early detection is the key to preventing disease.

Are pets susceptible to Lyme Disease?

Yes. Both dogs and cats can be infected with the Lyme Disease pathogen from tick bites. Pets should be protected with regular treatments of flea and tick medications and prompt removal of ticks when found (see Related Articles below).

Related Articles

Using Insect Repellents to Protect Against Ticks

Using Flea and Tick Medications on Pets


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