It’s only about the size of a pinhead, making it a hazard that is very easy to miss, but the deer tick is one of the biggest threats to the health of construction laborers who work on road crews and at other outdoor jobsites.
Deer ticks (also called blacklegged ticks) carry Lyme disease, a debilitating bacterial illness that can lead to permanent damage to the nervous system and joints. Deer ticks thrive in grassy and heavily wooded areas throughout the United States and Canada, but are particularly prevalent in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and North-Central regions.
Ticks tend to be most active from spring through early fall. Unfortunately, this coincides with the busiest time of year for the construction industry. Anyone who spends time outdoors during these months needs to take precautions and be aware of Lyme disease symptoms, some of which are subtle. Patients who are treated early with the appropriate antibiotics usually make a complete recovery. Lyme disease that goes untreated can lead to chronic arthritis, impaired memory and heart rhythm irregularities.
The bacterium that causes Lyme disease – Borrelia burgdorferi – can be transmitted when a deer tick attaches itself somewhere on the body and feeds for at least 36-48 hours. Symptoms of infection can develop within weeks, but other times can take months to appear.
Early signs and symptoms:
- Rash: A small, red bump may appear at the site of the tick bite that over the next few days could expand, forming a rash in a bull’s-eye pattern (a red outer ring surrounding a clear area). Some people develop this rash at more than one spot. Others never develop a rash or don’t notice it, as it may appear somewhere on the body that is covered by hair.
- Flu-like symptoms: Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.
Later signs and symptoms:
- Joint pain: Knees are especially likely to be affected, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
- Neurological problems: These include inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis on one side of the face (Bell’s palsy), numbness or weakness in the limbs and impaired muscle movement.
- Wear light-colored clothing to help find ticks more easily.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear a hat if you can’t avoid areas with lots of vegetation.
- Wear closed footwear and socks. Tuck your pants into your socks.
- Use a repellent with DEET (on skin or clothing) or permethrin (on clothing and gear). Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET can be applied to the skin and they can protect up to several hours. Products containing permethrin can be used to treat boots and clothing. Some clothing can also be purchased pre-treated. Treated items can remain protective through several washings. (Always wash them separately from other laundry.)
- Inspect your entire body immediately after outdoor work or after spending time outdoors in general. Pay special attention to:
- In and around ears
- Behind knees
- Areas with body hair
- Navel and groin areas
- Take a shower immediately after being outdoors.
- Put clothes in the dryer for one hour on high heat to kill any ticks.
- Check equipment and gear outside for ticks.
- Wear protective gloves when handling dead animals.
- If you find a tick, remove it immediately and inform your employer so other workers in your crew can be informed.
- If symptoms of Lyme disease develop, contact your doctor immediately.
The LHSFNA has a Health Alert on Lyme disease that can be placed inside paycheck envelopes and also fits inside glove compartments and lunchboxes. Order this and other health and safety materials by clicking on Publications.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]