How to Protect Yourself from Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria that is transferred to people from the bite of infected ticks. Lyme disease is not fatal, but can cause permanent damage to joints, the heart, and the nervous system if left untreated. The disease is named after the town in Connecticut where it was first recognized.
Am I at risk for Lyme disease?
Everyone is susceptible to tick bites that cause Lyme disease, especially people who spend time in wooded, grassy, or brush-covered areas. Campers, hikers, gardeners, and outdoor workers are at greatest risk. Animals also can bring ticks onto lawns and into houses. Lyme disease is very common in New England and throughout the northeastern United States.
How do ticks spread Lyme disease?
Ticks attach themselves to animals and people in order to feed. Ticks feed on blood by inserting their mouth into the skin. This is how they spread the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Ticks can attach to any part of a person’s body, but prefer moist or hairy areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp.
How do I protect myself from ticks?
If possible, avoid wooded, grassy, and brushy areas, especially in May, June, and July. If hiking, walk in center of trails to avoid brush and grass. Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and shoes that cover the entire foot in tick-prone areas. Tuck your pant legs into socks or shoes for added protection. Always use insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and clothing when spending time outdoors. Always check your body for ticks after any outdoor activity. Take a shower or bath after any outdoor activity to wash off and more easily find ticks. Wash and dry your clothing at high temperatures after being outdoors to kill ticks.
What is the best way to remove a tick from the body?
Early removal of a tick is the best way to reduce the risk of Lyme disease infection. Remove the tick with tweezers. Grasp the tick close to the skin and pull the tick away from the skin. Clean the area with an antiseptic. Generally, the tick must be attached for at least 36 hours before it can transfer the disease. Avoid crushing the tick.
What are the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease?
Symptoms can start a few days to a month after a tick bite. The early stages of Lyme disease may include a red skin rash in the shape of a bullseye, muscle and joint pain, headache, chills, fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes. Contact your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any of these symptoms. Some signs and symptoms may not occur until weeks or months after a tick bite. These include arthritis in the joints, especially the knees, numbness, pain, and paralysis of facial muscles, irregular heart rhythm, and problems with memory.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Many of the symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to those of other diseases, and different people experience various symptoms. For example, not everyone will develop the bullseye rash. But diagnosis can be made solely if the rash is present in a patient living in a tick-infected area or has experienced any physical symptoms. Two blood tests are also available to detect whether a patient has antibodies to Lyme disease. Blood tests, however, are not useful immediately after a tick bite. It can take 4 to 6 weeks after infection for the body to produce measureable levels of antibodies.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Lyme disease can be treated with oral antibiotics. Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stages of infection usually recover rapidly and completely. Patients treated in later stages respond well to treatment, but symptoms may not go away completely. Early diagnosis is key to successful recovery. If you think you have been bitten by a tick, or have a rash or other early symptoms of Lyme disease, see your primary care provider immediately.
Resources from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Download both at cdc.gov/lyme/toolkit
For more information or questions about Lyme disease, contact your primary care provider at Week Medical Center by calling 603-788-5095.
by Wendy Gair Muello, MD