Preventing, Recognizing and Treating Lyme Disease
The warm weather presents more opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, biking and picnicking. As you plan your next outing, keep in mind that during the summer months you are more likely to come in contact with ticks and other biting insects; most cases of Lyme Disease are reported during the months of June, July, and August.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, primarily transmitted through deer tick bites. Ticks will attach anywhere on the body, but prefer body creases such as the armpit, groin, and back of the knee. The bacterium travels through the bloodstream, establishes itself in various body tissues, and can cause a number of symptoms, some of which are severe.
- Clear brush and leaves where ticks commonly live. Stack woodpiles in dry, sunny areas off the ground. Treat the environment and your pets with products designed specifically for tick prevention.
- Wear long pants tucked into your socks, long sleeves, enclosed shoes, a hat and gloves. Tie back long hair. Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls. Apply an insect repellent with a 10 to 30 percent concentration of DEET.
- Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks, especially after walking through tall grass or wooded areas. Shower as soon as you come indoors. Deer ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin. Put clothes in the dryer for 20 minutes to kill any unseen ticks.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease include:
- The first sign of infection is usually a circular rash with a bull’s eye appearance. This rash occurs in approximately 80-90 percent of infected persons and begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3 to 30 days and gradually expands.
- General symptoms include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle/joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
- Vision changes, difficulty breathing, kidney problems, gastrointestinal distress, sleep disorders, seizures, behavioral changes, cranial nerve involvement, and psychiatric manifestations are some of the other symptoms that have been reported.
- If left untreated or undiagnosed, the infection may spread resulting in Bell’s palsy, severe headaches, neck stiffness, heart palpitations, shooting pains, and dizziness. After several months, approximately 60 percent of patients with the untreated infection may begin to have intermittent bouts of arthritis. Up to five percent may develop chronic neurological complaints months to years after infection.
- When a tick bites, it attaches itself firmly to the skin. To remove it, grasp the tick’s head as close to the skin as possible with tweezers or a tick removal tool. Pull straight up with a steady, slow motion. Disinfect the bite site and tweezers after removal. If portions of the tick remain in the skin, seek further medical attention.
- Most cases of Lyme Disease can be treated with oral antibiotics, especially if treatment is begun early. If the disease has progressed your doctor may recommend treatment with intravenous antibiotics.
- After treatment, a small percentage of people may experience symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue. The cause of these continuing symptoms is unknown, but extended antibiotic treatment does not make them go away.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Safety and Health Institute, Mayo Clinic, American Lyme Disease Foundation, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals. For medical advice, consult your physician.