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What's My Lyme Disease Risk?

Is the thought of Lyme disease making you feel you'd be safer in the comfort of your room rather than the great outdoors? Before you download a summer-long supply of games and apps, here's some information to help you know if you're at risk for Lyme disease.

What Areas Are Most Affected?

Lyme disease is the leading tick-borne (carried by ticks) disease in the United States. Experts think that some cases of Lyme disease aren't found because some people don't know that they have it.

Lyme Disease

Nearly all cases of Lyme disease in the United States happen in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and Pacific coastal states. Lyme disease has been reported in other states (and even in Asia, Europe, and Canada), but those hardest hit are:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Wisconsin
  • Vermont
  • Virginia

Outdoor Activities and Pets

Besides living in one of these areas, other things that might increase your risk include:

  • spending a lot of time outdoors in tall grass, brush, shrubs, or wooded areas
  • having pets that may carry ticks indoors
  • activities such as yardwork, hiking, camping, fishing, or hunting in tick-infested areas


Can Lyme Disease Be Prevented?

So you got a job as a landscaper this summer and you're planning a big camping trip. Take these precautions to protect yourself:

  • Wear closed shoes or boots, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants.
  • Tuck your pants into shoes or boots to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to help you see ticks easily.
  • Keep long hair pulled back or wear a hat for added protection.
  • When outside, don't sit on the ground.
  • Use an insect repellent containing 10% to 30% DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).
  • While outdoors, check yourself for ticks often. Check again after you go back inside (don't forget to check pets too).
  • Wash all clothes after leaving tick-infested areas, and thoroughly shampoo your hair to eliminate any unseen ticks.

If you use insect repellents containing DEET, follow the instructions on the product's label. Don't put on too much. Using more product than you need won't increase your protection.

Place DEET on shirt collars and sleeves and pants cuffs, and only use it directly on exposed areas of skin. Be sure to wash it off when you go back indoors. Don't spray aerosol or pump products containing DEET directly onto your face; instead, spray it on your hands and rub it into your face.

How Do I Remove a Tick?

You should know how to remove a tick just in case one lands on you or a friend.

First, don't panic. Your risk of developing Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick is low. And it takes at least 24–48 hours for the tick to transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. To be safe, remove the tick as soon as possible.

If you find a tick:

  • Call your doctor, who may want you to save the tick after removal so that the tick can later be identified as the type that may carry Lyme disease. You can put the tick in a sealed container to preserve it.
  • Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth, next to your skin.Illustration
  • Pull firmly and steadily on the tick until it lets go of the skin. If part of the tick stays in your skin, don't worry. It will eventually come out — although you should call your doctor if you notice any irritation in the area or symptoms of Lyme disease.
  • Swab the bite site with alcohol.

Note: Don't use petroleum jelly or a lit match to kill a tick. They won't get the tick off your skin quickly enough, and may just cause it to burrow deeper into your skin.

Date reviewed: September 2015