Healthy Living

How do Ticks Transmit Lyme Disease?


Lyme disease is transmitted by some species of tick. The species of tick that cause the disease are mainly found in the northern hemisphere and regions that experience temperate climate. The USA and Europe have the highest prevalence of lyme disease.

How Ticks Transmit Lyme Disease

The species of tick responsible for the spread of lyme disease include the Ixodes scapularis, commonly identified as the backlegged tick or the deer tick. In the Pacific region of the USA, the western backlegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) transmits the disease. Other ticks are presently believed to be incapable of transmitting the bacteria causing lyme disease. These include the American dog tick, the Lone Star tick, the Rocky Mountain Wood tick and the brown dog tick.

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The tick can spread the disease at its early stages of growth, and this is part of what makes it dangerous. In its nymph stages, it can hardly be noticed in the body and one may not even feel it attaching itself to the body. The nymph tick is only as big as a poppy seed, and in most cases, is the one responsible for transmitting the disease. Usually, the tick will attach to the areas of the body that are hidden such as the armpits and groin. This further makes it hard to notice.

Nymph ticks are more active in summer and spring seasons, and most infections are usually reported at these times of the year. The adult ticks function more in the cooler seasons of the year, that is, winter and autumn. Since the adult ticks are much larger, they are easier to notice and get rid of before they can transmit the bacteria.

The tick has to be attached to the body for at least 36 hours before it can transmit the lyme disease bacteria. If the tick is removed from the body before 36 hours, there is a good chance that the person is not infected with lyme disease, even if the tick was capable of transmitting the bacteria.

The Cause

Lyme disease is caused by spirochetal bacteria of the genus Borrelia. The collective name for the species of bacteria that can cause lyme disease is Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. This group contains 18 species of bacteria. However, at the moment, only three of these have been conclusively identified to cause lyme disease.

Spread From Animals to Human Beings

Lyme disease affects other animals, including pets such as cats and dogs. The disease also infects birds. These animals provide the natural reservoir for the disease. Since ticks can attack both humans and these animals, the disease is spread from the animals to human beings indirectly. If a tick attacks a bird with the causative bacteria of lyme disease, and later attacks a human being, the person will get infected. For this reason, not all ticks capable of transmitting the bacteria will actually have it.

According to professionals, in areas where lyme disease is common, one of every four or five ticks will have the bacteria. In areas where the disease is rare, one of every one hundred ticks will be carrying the disease bacterium.

The disease cannot be spread from person to person, whether through sex or any other form of physical contact. Also, as explained, getting bitten by a tick does not necessarily mean that one has the disease. The tick bite could be by a species of tick that does not transmit the disease. It could also have been removed from the body before it had enough time to spread the bacteria.