As the hot summer months pass by, there’s a chance you’re spending more time outside, perhaps by vegetation and in wooded areas. If so, there’s also a higher chance you’re spending time exposed to a critter you definitely want to avoid for its ability to spread Lyme disease.
What is Lyme disease?
Every year, close to 400,000 new cases of Lyme disease occur. The disease, usually spread by bacteria in an infected tick, is found across every state in the U.S., although it is more prevalent in the northeast and upper midwest. This is due to a larger number of deer tick hosts (animals that carry ticks) like white-footed deer and mice, being closer to humans.
How is it spread?
The deer tick transmits Lyme disease to animals and humans through bites infected with a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. It starts as an inflammatory disease in the skin, but can then spread to the nervous system, joints, and other organ systems in later stages. That’s why it’s important to catch it at an early stage.
Lyme disease can’t be spread through contact with a person who has it, it’s only spread through direct contact with a tick. It can however, be passed through the placenta of a pregnant woman to the fetus.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
For 50% of people with Lyme disease, a rash may develop at the site of the tick bite. Usually, it appears 1-2 weeks after the disease is transmitted and has an average diameter of 5-6 inches. The rash may persist for about 3-5 weeks but is usually not painful or itchy.
Nine percent of people with Lyme disease get the classic bull’s eye rash that can spread to other parts of the body from the infected site. Some people don’t get any rash at all.
Symptoms of Lyme disease are sometimes undetected and misdiagnosed since they are found in many other conditions. If initial symptoms go undetected, you may develop more severe symptoms of the disease that can appear weeks, months, and sometimes even years after the initial tick bite. Some symptoms of Lyme disease in its earlier stages include:
• Joint pain
• Generalized achiness
• Swelling of lymph glands near site of tick bite
• Flu-like symptoms
In later stages when the disease has disseminated throughout the body, other symptoms may appear. They include:
• Stiff, aching neck
• Facial paralysis
• Tingling or numbness in extremities
• Jaw pain
• Severe fatigue
• Changes in vision
• Numbness in arms/legs or hands/feet
It’s important to go to a doctor as soon as symptoms appear to avoid an escalation of Lyme disease. There are different tests doctors can conduct to diagnose the disease, but in its early stages, a diagnosis should be based on symptoms and evidence of a tick bite, not a blood test, which can give false results if performed in the first month after infection.
Oral antibiotics such as amoxicillin, doxycycline, and ceftin are used to treat Lyme disease in its early stages and almost always results in a full cure. However, the cure rate decreases the longer treatment is delayed. Later stage Lyme disease treatment can be treated through oral or intravenous antibiotics, but may take longer to be effective. Intravenous antibiotics are used when the disease involves the central nervous system.
Ticks can be found in outdoor vegetation, anywhere from lawns to woodland areas. They latch onto human skin and usually climb upward to reach a protected or creased area, like the back of your knee or nape of your neck. Ticks are active in temperatures above 45 degrees, so it’s important to check yourself regularly if you are spending time outdoors near any kind of vegetation throughout any season.
If you’re someone who spends time outdoors, whether hiking, working, or gardening, you can take these precautions to help avoid tick bites or find them more quickly.
- Wear enclosed shoes and light-colored clothing to be able to see ticks more easily.
- Scan clothes and skin frequently to spot ticks early.
- Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls, places that ticks thrive in.
- Use insect repellent that has DEET in it.
- Stay on clear, well-used trails.
- Do a full-body tick check at the end of your day. This is perhaps the most effective tick prevention method.
Let’s say you spot a tick that has latched onto your skin. Not all ticks are infected with Lyme disease, so it’s not a guarantee with every tick bite. If you remove a tick within the first 48 hours after attachment, your chances of contracting Lyme disease are greatly reduced. For tips on how exactly to remove a tick, click here.