Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is an infectious disease that spreads through ticks. A person can take steps to avoid ticks and reduce their risk of developing Lyme disease.

The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi cause Lyme disease and spread to humans through tick bites. Lyme disease is currently the most common disease transmitted through ticks in the United States, with approximately 476,000 infections per year.

Tick species in the U.S. that carry Lyme disease include blacklegged ticks and western blacklegged ticks.

Risk factors for developing Lyme disease include:

  • spending time in areas where ticks live
  • leaving skin exposed
  • avoiding removing ticks quickly and correctly
  • having pets access areas where ticks live

This article discusses different ways a person can decrease their risk of developing Lyme disease, what the stages of Lyme disease are, and when to speak with a healthcare professional.

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In the U.S., ticks carrying the bacteria that cause Lyme disease are most likely to be present in the following areas:

  • New England
  • the mid-Atlantic states
  • the upper Midwest

The risk is lower, but people may also encounter ticks carrying Lyme disease in northern parts of California, Washington, and Oregon.

Ticks can be active throughout the year, but they are more likely to be present during the warmer months, ranging from April–September.

They tend to live in humid or moist areas, particularly within wooded, grassy, or bushy habitats. If a person is walking through woodland areas, they may want to consider avoiding walking through dense vegetation by sticking to the middle of paths when possible.

Ticks can also appear in areas away from wilder habitats, and many people find ticks in their yards or neighborhoods.

A person can minimize exposure to ticks by wearing full-length clothing and applying a tick repellant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends performing full-body checks after going outside, removing clothing, and using a mirror to ensure a thorough search for ticks. Particularly important areas to check include:

  • back of the knees
  • under the arms
  • inside the belly button
  • around the waist
  • between the legs
  • in and around all head and body hair and the ears

To further reduce the chances of bringing ticks indoors, a person may want to consider showering whenever they reenter their home and drying their clothes at high heat.

Experts suggest that a person be cautious when choosing a tick repellant, as while there are many options available, they may cause more harm than benefit.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a tool that may help people decide which form of tick repellant is the most appropriate for them.

Ticks do not tend to pass on Lyme disease unless they remain on the skin for at least 24 hours.

If a person removes a tick immediately when they find it, the risk of developing Lyme disease is considerably lower.

To remove a tick, experts suggest that people use a pair of tweezers with fine tips. They also encourage that people look out for early symptoms of Lyme disease for the following few weeks.

Learn more about how to remove a tick here.

People with pets may want to consider inspecting them regularly and removing any ticks if they appear. There is no risk of developing Lyme disease by removing a tick from a pet.

A veterinarian may recommend products to use on a pet to repel ticks.

Lyme disease affects people in three stages:

  • early localized
  • early disseminated
  • late

During the early localized stage of Lyme disease, erythema migrans, which is a discolored, ring-shaped rash, develops at the site of the new tick bite. Symptoms that may accompany the rash include:

The early localized stage of Lyme disease is curable. It is important for a person to get treatment before the condition progresses.

Lyme disease progresses to the early disseminated stage in around 20% of cases. The most common symptom at this stage is to have multiple erythema migrans lesions. Other symptoms may include:

The late stage of Lyme disease commonly causes pauciarticular arthritis in the large joints, usually the knees.

Lyme disease can be a challenging condition for healthcare professionals to diagnose. This is because, aside from the presence of an erythema migrans rash, clinical signs and symptoms are nonspecific, and it is not always possible to support them with laboratory evidence.

It is much harder for doctors to treat Lyme disease without an early diagnosis. Therefore, experts recommend that a person take measures to prevent Lyme disease as much as possible and look for symptoms of the condition if they experience a tick bite.

It is advisable for a person to contact a doctor if they develop symptoms of Lyme disease. A doctor will investigate a person’s symptoms and form a treatment plan accordingly. They may order blood tests.

Many people who receive early treatment for Lyme disease recover without any lingering symptoms. However, some develop a recurring infection.

The later people receive treatment for Lyme disease, the more likely they can experience musculoskeletal or neurological symptoms.

The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi infect humans through tick bites and cause Lyme disease. This condition is the most common infection transmitted through ticks in the U.S. Ticks are particularly present in New England, the upper Midwest, and the mid-Atlantic states. However, they can appear anywhere.

The best way to reduce the risk of Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites. People can do this by avoiding regions that ticks are likely to occupy, such as areas of dense vegetation, and by performing regular checks to remove ticks from the skin as soon as possible.

It is important for a person to get medical attention if they experience symptoms of Lyme disease.