What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection. In the eastern U.S., the infection is transmitted by the bite of a black-legged tick, commonly known as the deer tick. Lyme disease, which can affect the skin, heart, nerves, or joints, can often be effectively treated with antibiotic therapy.
The early diagnosis and proper treatment of Lyme disease are important strategies to avoid the costs and complications of infection and late-stage illness. As soon as you notice a characteristic rash or other possible symptoms, consult your healthcare provider.
What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?
The symptoms of Lyme disease can vary because different parts of the body may be affected. The skin, joints, nerves or heart may be involved.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease typically appear within 3 to 30 days after a tick bite and include one or more of the following:
- Chills and fever
- Muscle and joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- “Bulls-eye” rash at or near the site of the tick bit
The “bulls-eye” rash we associate with Lyme disease may occur in up to 80% of people infected. The rash usually appears within seven to 14 days. The center of the rash may clear as it spreads, giving it the appearance of a bull’s-eye. The rash may be warm, but it is usually not painful or itchy.
Lyme disease absent of the telltale rash is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms mimic other ailments. Infections that are not recognized and treated in the early phase may spread to other parts of the body, a condition called disseminated Lyme disease. Symptoms of disseminated disease can occur days to months after the initial infection. Some of the symptoms associated with disseminated disease include:
- numbness and pain in the arms or legs
- paralysis of facial muscles, usually on one side of the face (also known as Bell’s palsy)
- fever, stiff neck, and severe headaches if meningitis occurs
- abnormal heart beat (rare)
What is the treatment for Lyme disease?
Several antibiotics are effective for treating Lyme disease. Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stages of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely.
How can I protect my family and myself from getting Lyme disease?
The best way to prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses is to avoid contact with ticks. If you are working, playing, or relaxing in areas that may have ticks you should do the following:
- Wear long sleeve shirts and pants. Light colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks.
- Tuck your pants into your socks and tuck your shirt into your pants.
- Use an EPA approved repellent (such as DEET) on your skin, and apply permethrin to your clothes. For more information visit. http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/
- Stay on trails and out of tall grass that ticks are especially fond of.
- Keep your lawn mown, cut overgrown brush, and clear away leaf litter from your home.
- Inspect any pets daily and remove any ticks found.
Your risk of getting an infection like Lyme disease is significantly lower if you remove a tick within 36 hours – it can take that long before they transmit Lyme disease bacteria.
- If bitten by a tick, wash the area of bite thoroughly with soap and water and apply an antiseptic to area of the bite.
- Mark on a calendar the date that you were bitten, and then watch for signs of Lyme disease or any changes in your health every day for the next month.
Check your children daily! Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found
in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. Ticks can ride into the home on the items you use outdoors – jackets, blankets and backpacks. Toss clothing in a hot dryer for ten minutes. Washing clothes doesn’t kill ticks, but drying does.
Be tick smart and keep your family safe from Lyme disease!
Read more about ticks and Lyme disease prevention: http://www.tickencounter.org