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Combating Lyme Disease

Spring with its warmer weather has arrived and everyone is eager to get outside. The backyard needs cleaning and walking the paths of the Crestwood forest appeal. Except your yard and our woods contain a tick that can make you very sick. 

The “tick” is perhaps misnamed the “Deer Tick” - because ticks don't attach only to deer – they attach to any warm blooded animal such as mammals and birds. Wide ranging animals such as deer disperse ticks geographically the most, and most often that is how mice acquire ticks. And, mice are highly efficient transmitters of Lyme. Ticks that feed on mice are highly likely to become infected, making them capable of transmitting Lyme disease to people. 

The Crestwood woods teem with mice. They haunt the tall grassy area along the edge of the woods. In winter, the mice can sense heat and are drawn to houses where they seek shelter and overwinter. 

Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected tick. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely small. That is why it is important to do daily tick checks and remove them immediately, and then watch for symptoms such as a rash or fever. 

If the infection is successful, the most common initial response is a circular or bulls-eye rash. However, 25-50% of those infected do not develop the rash. Even if you don’t remember being bitten by a tick, an unexpected summer fever or odd rash may be the first signs of Lyme disease, particularly if you’ve been in tick habitat. See a healthcare provider if you have signs or symptoms. 

Prevention includes simple efforts such as avoiding wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, wearing long sleeves and long pants, and application of a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 repellent. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer. 

Check your homes for possible entryways that mice can use to escape the cold. Plug possible passageways with steel wool especially where pipes enter the house. Patch damaged screens in foundation wells. 

Some people might find this controversial, but one block in Crestwood has found that regular feeding of a few feral cats has greatly reduced the population of mice. The cats are caught and given annual health check-ups, treated, and then released. If you have a pet dog, consult your veterinarian about prevention. 

If you would like more information, we are fortunate to be near the world’s foremost Lyme Disease research center at Johns Hopkins Medical Center’s Department of Rheumatology at its Bayside Campus in Baltimore. Alan Barbour of the center has written an excellent guide called “Lyme Disease: Why is it spreading, how does it make you sick, and what can you do about it.” The DC Public Library has two copies.

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