Summer is prime Lyme disease season for humans and the pets they love. But the good news for dog owners is that the likelihood of picking up a tick with Lyme disease directly from your pet is quite low. “What the tick typically does is burrow into the dog’s fur and then skin, and it won’t bite a human if it’s already latched on,” explains Robert Kalish, MD, a rheumatologist with expertise in Lyme disease at Tufts Medical Center.
“If the dog lies down in your bed and the tick hasn’t burrowed into your dog’s skin, maybe it could fall off and latch on to you,” he adds. “But if your dog is just walking around the house and the tick falls off—you’d have to be really unlucky to pick it up around the house.”
Sam R. Telford III, PhD, professor at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and one of the world’s foremost experts on tick-borne diseases, adds that it’s possible a tick could detach from a dog treated with a topical anti-tick compound and attach to a human. But that tick would die within a few hours, before it could transmit Lyme. “Of course, the fact that the dog is walked by the person means that the person is potentially going to pick up ticks him- or herself,” Dr. Telford notes.
So daily tick checks for adults and kids spending time outside are a must; the insects are most likely to attach to armpits, groins, heads and necks. A tick must attach for at least 24 hours before it can transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme, so removing it properly (with tweezers close to the skin’s surface, pulling straight out without twisting) is your last method of prevention. Patients who suspect they have Lyme disease should always connect with their primary care physician.
Antibiotics are very effective at stopping Lyme disease, particularly if it is caught early. “If there are questions a treating physician wants help with, that’s what we’re here for,” says Dr. Kalish. He can be reached at 617-636-5990.
- Reported cases of Lyme are most common among boys aged 5 to 9.
- The second-highest group reporting Lyme is men aged 40 to 55. (Women of those ages are close behind.)
- The highest number of confirmed Lyme cases are in June and July.
- Massachusetts had the highest number of cases in 2013, with 1,474 (57 per 100,000).
- In dogs exposed to Lyme disease, 95 percent do not have symptoms
Source: Centers for Disease Control