Lyme disease. Menace to outdoors lovers in Northeast, Midwest

 White-tailed deer overpopulation boost cases due to more deer ticks-

Lyme Disease is a real threat to those who go outdoors, unlike the recent hysteria over the rarely transmitted dog tapeworm larva (Echinococcus granulosus) to humans. In 2010 there were over 30,000 reported cases in the U.S. of  often debilitating Lyme disease. It is usually transmitted by the small, hard-to-see deer tick, which has as its primary host white-tailed deer.  Density of deer and density of ticks is closely related.  A new map has just been produced showing the actual density of deer ticks. Some states like Wisconsin, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Massachusetts are real hot spots.  The infected area is spreading.

At least three closely related bacteria cause the disease. It is transmitted by the bite of deer tick and is usually easy to treat with antibiotics if discovered early, but as time goes by treatment gets harder as the organism settles in and begins to damage various organs. I knew a woman who went from a championship skier to barely able to walk because of an undiagnosed infection.

The incidence of the disease is reduced by careful examination of clothing and skin after (and while) outdoors, knowledge of the initial symptoms, and reduction in deer ticks.  Hunting deer, plus wolves, coyotes, coywolves, bears and other predators of deer may help as well as defeating attempts by suburban residents to “save” large numbers of local deer and hunters who press for the state wildlife or game commissions to maintain excessive numbers of deer for hunting.



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  1. Jim Avatar


    Have you seen the movie ‘The Grey’? I saw it and liked it. I’m wondering what wolf biologists or others’ think of the movies’ portrayal of wolves and their behavior.

    1. Salle Avatar

      There have been several responses published in the press, by biologists – many of whom work with wolves, in the past ten days that express serious disappointment.

      I posted this one a few days ago:

      State biologist dreads Hollywood portrayal of wolves
      Attacks on humans, implied in movie’s trailers, extremely rare

      I particularly like the side bar that has info on human/wolf (attack) conflicts.

      And a rebuttal from someone else:

      aves says:
      February 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Rage against “The Grey” movie might be misdirected:

  2. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Lyme’s is probably my greatest concern in Northern MN, although it is not that prevalent in this neck of the woods. If mild Winters continue, Lymes will be as prevalent up here.

    When one looks at the high deer concentration, and the white footed mouse/deer mouse, and other small rodents, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads. All we hear about is the “cost” of wolves to the public, but on the individual level, perhaps we should be thanking the wolf as an agent to stop or at least hold in check the spread of Lymes. Might be interesting to see what happens over the years in Wisconsin if their proposed wolf plan goes into affect.

  3. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    For those not familiar with lymes origin and some of the do’s and dont’s.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      For those not familiar with lymes origin and some of the do’s and dont’s.

      Sorry, forgot the link

  4. jdubya Avatar

    Lyme disease is easily treated with antibiotics which are capable of completely eradicating the organism in the body. The concern is when people do NOT get antibiotic treatments and arthritis can then occur in about 10-25% of the population. But the fear that people have of antibiotic resistance Lyme disease bacteria is not sustained in fact.

    There are some very rare cases of an auto-immune type response that people blame on Lyme disease, but it is not clear they would not have come down with the malady regardless if they had been infected or not.

    If you are in the woods and suspect you have had a bite from a very small tick (about the head of a pin, not a larger wood tick), then watch for a bulls-eye type of rash moving away from the bite. When you see that, head to the Dr. ’cause that is the tell-tale sign of fun things happening.

    1. mad Avatar

      jdubya, I have to disagree with you on a few points mainly because the medical literature contradicts you, as well as my personal experiences. I have 4 friends-family members who have had Lyme and 3 of them had resistant strains and relapses. One friend who has it has a wife who is a well-published molecular and microbiologist. There are thousands if people who do not achieve eradication of rhe disease after their first cycle of antibiotics. Another friend was on IV antubiotics for a full year. When my wife came down with it several years ago, it was probably as a result from field work with deer in the Northeast or wolves in Wisconsin. She spent months researching the current medical literature for new studies and papers so I was stuck hearing about it. Lyme can greatly exacerbate Parkinsons, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid conditions such as Hashimitos. A lot depends on the individual, but it’s not as easy as taking a month of antibiotics and voila, you’re cured.

    2. Mike Avatar

      ++Lyme disease is easily treated with antibiotics which are capable of completely eradicating the organism in the body. ++

      So you’ve been infected with lyme and easily cured yourself? I bet that’s an interesting story if you have the time.

      ++The concern is when people do NOT get antibiotic treatments and arthritis can then occur in about 10-25% of the population. But the fear that people have of antibiotic resistance Lyme disease bacteria is not sustained in fact. ++

      It’s been proven that lyme can be resistant to antibiotics. What it does is it morphs into the cystic form where it is largely invulnerable to cephalosporins like rocephin, which is considered one of the most powerful antibiotics.

      The key to lyme is to get treated early. If you don’t you could be looking at a resistant infection and an overwhelmed immune system. Untreated infections go far beyond mere “arthritis” and can produce horrible neurological symptoms if the bacteria crosses the blood brain barrier and reproduces.

      ++If you are in the woods and suspect you have had a bite from a very small tick (about the head of a pin, not a larger wood tick), then watch for a bulls-eye type of rash moving away from the bite. When you see that, head to the Dr. ’cause that is the tell-tale sign of fun things happening.++

      This is terrible advice. If you get bit by a tick and soon get funny symptoms, go to the doctor, period. Many patients do not get bulls eye rashes.

      The truth is we have no idea how many strains there are, and what the effects are of numerous co-infections combined with the lyme spirochete.

      It’s a cutting edge scientific problem that needs much more research. Until then, prudent physicians treat based on symptoms rather than portraying a “God” mentality and assuming they know exactly what’s going on when it’s clear we don’t.

      1. jdubya Avatar

        I have no inclination to debate internet rumors and fears on yet another internet forum. Believe what you want to believe…facts are never as important as opinions, are they?

        1. Mike Avatar

          That’s what I thought.

  5. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    Map(s) with prevalence of lymes throughout the country

    1. Paul Avatar

      Where I live the ticks are horribly thick. Last year it seemed that after every walk with my little dog I had to take a tick off that was crawling around on her. Fortunately with her white and sable coloring they are easy to spot. I even found a couple in our bed. The past couple of years have been really bad for ticks at least where I am. My wife was believed to have contracted Lymes back in 2000, but they could never pinpoint it in her blood tests. Her symptoms were exactly the same and the same antibiotic treatment for Lymes cured her joint pain issues. The dark red on that map is where I live so it does not surprise me. We also have quite a problem with mosquitoes and West Nile affecting birds around here too. Fortunately there have only been a couple of people infected here.

  6. Kent Avatar

    If you read this study you will see that the relationship between deer density and Lyme is not investigated in the research. The authors suggest that one cause of the return of ticks may be the reforestation of the Northeast. Ticks need habitat. They don’t need deer.

    1. Mike Avatar

      It’s deforestation combined with global warming. The main carrier of the lyme bacteria is the white-footed mouse, which flourishes in unnatural forest openings of 10 acres or less.

      The thing about “ticks dropping from trees onto your head” is largely myth — at least in terms of the deer tick. Where you’ll find the worst concentrations is in knee-high grass in ten acres or less forest openings.

      You’ll find very few deer ticks in older growth forests with high canopies and pine needle/shrub/log rot understory. They love the grass.

      The combination of numerous clearcuts and warmer winters has caused an explosion in the numbers. People like open areas too, so they’ll go and walk through these pretty areas and pick up ticks like their nothing.

  7. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I often find ticks on me after spending a spring day out in Idaho. I found 16 ticks under my shirt collar one day after a hike in the Lost River Mountains.
    I looked around in the grass one day after finding many ticks crawling up my pant legs. The ticks were holding onto the top of the grass I was walking through by their four back legs and would wave their front four legs around trying to hitch a ride on me whenever I put my hand or leg near them. I was surprised at how far they could extend their front four legs.
    I was tested for Lyme a few years ago and tested negative.

    1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

      Out of the hundreds of ticks I have removed from my body and clothing over the years,only four have managed to bite me. I think every hair on my body stands straight out after seeing the first tick each year.

    2. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Larry Thorngren,

      It’s my experience that the Lost River and Lemhi Mountains are perhaps the worst in Idaho, although I have seen fewer ticks in recent years. Of course, these are the large easy-to-see Rocky Mountain wood ticks. They carry a lot of nasties too, but apparently Lyme is rare in them.

      The very worst awful place I ever saw was the bench above (north of) Gardiner, Montana. I slept in my truck there one night in April where I had a good view of the Park. Many mule deer winter there. I actually found the ticks hanging in the tall grass at the level of perhaps one or two on almost every (tall dried out) blade. I pulled the truck away from the grass and into a vegetation free old travertine quarry.

  8. DT Avatar

    I hate ticks. Mostly because of this problem.

    Do you think that wolves are an effective way of taking care of this very real problem? Is this problem more concerning than the wolves and their worms?

    If worms in wolves is such a big concern, would it be too invasive to somehow make sure wolves get wormed? Just curious. I’ve done some reading about how they are following through with birth control for horses, why not worm control for wolves? 🙂 ok, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work, but my mind did make that leap!

  9. Richard Pollack Avatar

    Readers should note that finding and promptly removing ticks (from a person or pet) can dramatically reduce risk of infection. Once the tick has been removed, have it identified. Only certain kinds of ticks can transmit the agents of Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Other ticks may transmit other infections. The longer the tick is attached, the greater the risk of infection. Physical samples can be sent, or digital images uploaded, for a rapid, confidential, independent and expert evaluation. For more educational information and help with identification, visit IdentifyUS LLC.

    1. Salle Avatar

      Now that’s a helpful web site, thanks for posting the URL.

      Several years ago I was bitten, in numerous locations, by what appears to have been a spider – happened while I was sleeping and the rash didn’t present for two days. I never figured out what kind and could not find a good web site to help me identify my attacker. (I was tended to by a pair of RNs but antivenom can’t reverse that kind of damage after that length of time before detection). The residual damage is discoloration of the affected areas and mild nerve damage where 50% of feeling is gone among other issues… still after nearly a decade.

      Still wish I could find better online info. Do you know if there is such a site/service regarding arachnids?

      1. Richard Pollack Avatar

        I’ll identify spiders as well, and also offer insight on the spider’s biology and management. Note that the vast majority of ‘spider bites’ are not. Unless you see a spider in the act of biting, or fleeing from where you sensed a bite, the lesion very likely resulted from something other than a spider. Yours could have been from a spider, but we’ll never know.

        1. Salle Avatar

          Thanks. I was in the daily company of some medical professionals who were teaching about such bites the day the rash presented. It was certainly circular and appeared more like spider bites typically do. The rash and oozing lasted three months, the discoloration covers the area and shape of the four sites of affected area. Made for a hard summer and special protection when I go outdoors any time of year… sun or cold air are dangerous given the lack of sensation.
          I do appreciate your input and the service. Wish I knew about you back when that all happened. Please keep up the good work, there is a serious need for the service you provide.

          1. Nancy Avatar

            Salle – have you ever had any problems with those tiny flies – noseeums?

            Noticed an increase over the last few years in my area, especially during wet springs. Don’t even notice they’ve bitten me until hours later when the area starts to swell. The bite area (usually just above the sock line) is swollen and oozes for weeks.

  10. pamm215 Avatar

    The main host is the WHITE FOOTED MOUSE, although deer and other warm blooded animals as well as birds are hosts. The misconception you are repeating makes people who are away from deer feel safe…….they’re not.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Thanks pamm215. I didn’t find this anywhere, but you may be right.

      Of course one solution to too many mice is fox, coyotes, owls, etc. in the woods.

  11. pamm215 Avatar

    Also, by the time you see the rash……you are infected. Only half the people who get Lyme (no s) ever get a rash……soooo, if bitten,get 6 weeks of doxycyline and PREVENT infection.DO NOT WAIT TIL YOU HAVE A RASH OR OTHER SYMPTOMS. Demand treatment from your doctor immediately.

    1. Mike Avatar

      well said.

  12. pamm215 Avatar

    One source of info is Lyme Disease Foundation…LDF,very good website, nationally recognized and award winning

    Another source is ILADS, which includes soooo much info, including treatment protocols. This is the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society , a group of health professionals dealing with Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. They support evidence based treatment, based on treating until symptoms are gone, rather than saying oh well, still got symptoms after 28 days of antibiotics…..tough.

  13. pamm215 Avatar

    One of the best sources of info if you suspect you have Lyme, think someone. you known has it, live in an area with Lyme, or even need help in dealing with underinformed or misinformed docs, or how to deal with insurance companies who don’t want to pay for treatment……… is a book COPING WITH LYME, by De Silva. It gives lists of symptoms to check yours against, is very easy reading, and gives treatment info. It gave me info to deal intelligently with docs, insurance companies etc., also how to understand test results

    IMPORTANT…with Lyme tests, a negative test result DOES NOT mean you don’t have Lyme. It only means your body was not making antibodies against the Lyme bacteria at that time. Lyme titer tests have a 60% FALSE NEGATIVE result. Other tests designed for national case reporting only, get used for diagnosing……so you need to be armed with information to avoid getting hurt.

  14. pamm215 Avatar

    A final thought…..lots of Lyme along the major migratory flyways of the birdies… people in states along those routes are at risk. Very few states have no Lyme.

    BTW. More sensitive tests but still not accurate, are Western Blot and ELISA…..again, they are testing only for antibodies, not the bacteria, so negative results DO NOT mean you don’t have Lyme. Positive result make it easier to get treatment.

    Hope all my typing was helpful 🙂

  15. pamm215 Avatar

    1. Lyme rashes are not know for oozing….see symptoms on Lyme Disease Foundation site

    2. Lyme rases may be typical “bullseye” rash, or could be other shapes as well….solid, no bulls eye,oval, single rash, multiple rashes…..see lots of pics on LDF web site. On people with darker skin it can look like bruising.

    3. It makes sense not to kill off predators in order to control carrier population of the ticks. Again, it’s whitefooted mice that are the main carriers. Not the deer. The deer tick is renamed the black legged tick so people don’t just associate them with deer.

    4. People in cities get Lyme too…..walking across a lawn or brushing against bushes lets “questing” ticks at the ends of stalks, leaves etc….grab on to you and get you.

    5. Do a tick check after you’ve been outside……especially of hair, waist, warm dark protected private areas are tick favorites. Get someone to check your back. I don’t wash with a face cloth any more. I soap my hands and wash that way. If i feeel a bump…i investigate.

    6. Take your clothes off in the garage, then immediately put in dryer to kill ticks. Don’t leave em in the hamper then wash….they can then walk off your clothes and go visit you.

    7. Spray deet on your clothes, tuck pants into socks, wear a hat and stay in the center of the trail if hiking.

    1. aves Avatar

      Given the surprising amount of misinformation posted here, your input has been invaluable. Thank you.

    2. Paul Avatar

      What happened with my wife is that she broke out in a rash first, and then developed severe joint pain. It got to the point where she could barely walk without assistance. She went to our ER and the doctor looked at her and said “You have hives.” He made no attempt to find out what was causing it or anything. She had to go to the ER two more times before we got a doctor who knew right away what the problem was even though her Lymes test came back negative. He started her on antibiotics and she recovered fairly quick.

      This was before we were married about 12 years ago and she did not have insurance so we were socked with three ER bills, and two of the visits were absolutely worthless. I am glad that the third doctor knew what he was doing, or else the outcome could have been much worse. She had moved to Wisconsin from Georgia about 6 months before this happened. We have no idea how she got infected, but we are very cautious now anytime that we come inside after being in the woods or after walking our dog. Thank you for the information that you presented.

  16. pamm215 Avatar

    Mike…..i live in New Jersey. Our tick population is on the rise. It sure is not from an increase in clear cutting. But we do have an increase in people living closer to wooded areas. Lots of factors including killing off of predators can increase tick population. They like woods, brush, leaf piles,weeds, bushes, fields, they need protection from drying out…..saw one walk across the counter at my post office….he came in on someone probably.
    No place is safe….except maybe deserts. They are even at the beach….go figure….

    Nymphs, baby ticks, are the size of a period in a sentence. Adults are the size of an apple seed…..til they suck your blood, then they can be the size of a raisin.

    1. Salle Avatar

      Ewwwwe. I recall when I lived in NH decades ago, I was living in a farmhouse and one of my housemates left my bedroom window open, there was no screen. When I got home form work that evening and turned on the light in my room I saw that my room was covered with ticks. They were on the walls, my pillow, everywhere. I slept in my car that night. Good thing it was summer.

    2. Mike Avatar

      Pamm –

      All good points. Something to consider is the preferred habitat of the white-footed mouse is unnatural forest openings of ten acres or less.

      This is a big problem in places like the Northwoods, which is a lyme hotbed. They don’t have to be recent clearcuts, but cuts from decades ago that are slowly growing back, or cleared by landowners for “aesthetic” purposes. A simple lawn also qualifies, or these “mini ranches”.

      One thing I’ve noticed is I see far less ticks at elevation or in/near old growth forests. I’ve seen a few in the riparian bottomlands of the Rockies at 4,000 feet or lower, but going up into the mountains things change. I think the dry climate of the west helps. The humidity and moisture of the east is just bad news. Combine this with climate change and you have numbers rising.

  17. aves Avatar

    The prevalance of Lyme disease is related to the abundance of their primary hosts (mice, chipmunks) and their host’s food (acorns).

    “Climate, Deer, Rodents, and Acorns as Determinants of Variation in Lyme-Disease Risk”:

  18. vickif Avatar

    I think Lyme disease is far less concerning than many other ailments, which one is more likely to get. (Examples: Giardia-acute and wide in it’s exposure possibilities, West Nile Virus-no treatment).
    I have seen people with ALS grasping for hope that they have been misdiagnosed and have Lyme disease instead.)
    Like everything else you expose yourself to, you must take precautions and weigh the risks.
    I’d take these parasites over Pine Bettles any time.

    1. Nancy Avatar

      Another disease often misdiagnosed yet very prevalent in our society today.

      Spent a couple of awful months (lost over 30 lbs. won’t go into how physically debilitating that experience was) in and out of a doctor’s office, even treated for Giardia, before finally going to the local health food store.

      The gal there knew immediately what the problem was after listing my symptoms. Off the shelf treatment & a diet change and I was back to normal in a week.

  19. Immer Treue Avatar
    Immer Treue

    I think Lyme disease is far less concerning than many other ailments, which one is more likely to get. (Examples: Giardia-acute…


    As one who has had good old giardia, once I knew what it was (diagnosis) and started the anti-biotics, I felt better that day. The thing with Lyme is misdiagnosis, and once it ramps up, all the other conditions it mimics and will the antibiotics still be effective, insurance, etc.

    Odd, but all the water I drank straight form lakes in MN and Canada, I picked giardia up when something sprayed on my water bottle while mountain biking. Vet I spoke with said it was probably raccoon scat. Yum. I don’t want it again, but I’d rather have giardia than Lyme.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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