Beware of Lyme Disease
For many people, warm weather is an invitation to spend more time in the great outdoors. But whether you are hiking in the woods, playing catch in the park, or puttering around your garden, it is important to know what Lyme disease is; how it is spread, diagnosed, and treated; and how you can avoid getting it.
What Is Lyme Disease?Lyme disease is a bacterial infection. If it is not diagnosed and treated early, it can cause:
Nervous system abnormalities
Memory loss and mood changes
The condition is called Lyme disease because it was first identified in Lyme, Connecticut, after a mysterious outbreak of arthritis in 1975. Since then, reported cases have increased dramatically, and Lyme disease has become an important health problem not only in many parts of the United States but also in other parts of the world. Lyme disease is most prevalent in the northeast region of the United States, the north central states, and on the west coast, especially northern California.
How Is Lyme Disease Spread?
Lyme disease is spread by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The bacteria are carried by various types of ticks. People get Lyme disease from being bitten by an infected tick.
Lyme-carrying ticks travel from place to place on deer, mice, other mammals, or birds. People typically encounter them when they are walking in wooded, bushy, or grassy places, but the ticks may also find their way into lawns and gardens. They wait for a new host from the tips of grasses or shrubs and then transfer to people or animals that brush up against the vegetation. They do not fly or jump, and they are not
In much of the United States, Lyme disease is most often carried by deer ticks and western black-legged ticks, which are much smaller than common dog and cattle ticks. In fact, these ticks are often no bigger than a pinhead, which makes them hard to see. Also, they often become attached to hairy parts of the body, such as the groin, armpits,
Ticks feed on blood by inserting their mouth parts into your skin. A full meal can take several days as the tickÝs body slowly swells with blood. You are most likely to be infected after a tick has been feeding for two or more days.
How Can I Tell If I Have Lyme Disease?
It is not always easy to tell if someone has Lyme disease. The symptoms can mimic many other conditions, such as flu, arthritis, or even multiple sclerosis.
Early Lyme Disease Symptoms
The first stage of Lyme disease can last days or weeks after infection. During this stage, one or more of the following symptoms may occur
Chills and fever
Muscle and joint pain
Swollen lymph nodes
A skin rash around the tick bite
The rash that is associated with Lyme disease may appear anywhere from a day to a month after you have been bitten by the tick. The rash is typically circular, red, and either flat or slightly raised. As the
About one out of four people who get Lyme disease never have the rash. That is why many people do not know they have the condition until it reaches the second or third stage, which may be weeks, months, or even years after the tick bite. The infection spreads through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. As it progresses, it can begin to involve the muscles, bones, joints, nervous system, and even the heart.
Second-Stage Lyme Disease Symptoms
When Lyme disease spreads throughout the body through the blood or lymph, it is considered second-stage Lyme disease. Symptoms may include:
Inflammation of the knees and other large joints
Nervous system abnormalities, including numbness, pain, facial
drooping or paralysis, and meningitis
Vision changes, such as blurred vision or abnormal sensitivity
Third-Stage Lyme Disease Symptoms
Months after the initial tick bite,
the disease may go into a third stage. Symptoms may include:
Neurological symptoms, such as memory loss, mood changes, sleep disorders, confusion, hallucinations, and decreased consciousness
Chronic arthritis or joint inflammation in the knees and other large joints
Testing for Lyme Disease
If you have one or more symptoms and you think you could have been bitten by a tick, even if you did not have a bite mark or rash, talk with your healthcare provider. A simple blood test can help to determine whether you have Lyme disease. But blood testing is not completely reliable. The disease may not show up in the blood until 2 to 6 weeks after infection. And other kinds of infection can cause a positive test, even when Lyme disease is not present. For this reason, some healthcare providers begin treatment for Lyme disease regardless of blood test results, if symptoms and exposure to ticks strongly suggest Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease Can Be Treated
If you are diagnosed with Lyme disease, your healthcare provider will probably treat you with antibiotics such as Amoxicillin. Sometimes anti-inflammatory medications are also prescribed to relieve joint stiffness. People who receive treatment in the early stages usually recover quickly and completely. Even in late-stage Lyme disease, most people respond well to antibiotic.
The sooner you get treatment for Lyme disease, the better. Although Lyme disease is rarely fatal, permanent damage to the joints, the heart, or the nervous system can develop, especially when the disease goes unrecognized in the early stages.
Pregnancy and Lyme Disease
There is no proof that Lyme disease causes birth defects. In rare cases, there is some evidence that Lyme disease acquired during pregnancy may cause infection of the fetus and possibly stillbirth. If a woman is infected while pregnant, treatment with antibiotics will not affect the pregnancy and is recommended.
What You Can Do to Prevent Lyme Disease
If you live in an area where Lyme disease is common, you should take extra precautions whenever you spend time outdoors. Here are some ways to decrease your chances of being bitten by a tick:Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
Tuck in your shirt and tuck your pant legs into your socks or boots.
Wear white or light colors to make it easier to see ticks crawling on your clothing.
Spray insect repellent containing diethyltoluamide or diethylmetatoluamide, also known as DEET, on your clothes, and apply it to exposed skin other than your face
Walk in the center of hiking trails to avoid unnecessary contact with grasses or brush.
Avoid tick-infested areas, especially in May, June, and July. You might want to check with local health departments, park systems, or cooperative extension services for information on areas where ticks are most concentrated.
Inspect your skin carefully after being outdoors; if you find a tick, remove it immediately.
After being outdoors, change and launder your clothes, shower, and wash your hair. In addition, brushing or combing your hair can remove a tick before it becomes imbedded.
Although a vaccine called Lymerix was manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline to help prevent people from developing Lyme disease, sales were discontinued beginning February 26, 2002.The website www.antibiotics-info.org contains information for consumers and healthcare professionals on a variety of topics surrounding the issue of antibiotic resistance for all and is not intended to be used for decisions on diagnosis or treatment.
Keep Ticks Away From Your Home and Garden
There seems to be a relationship between the size of the deer population and the abundance of deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease. So to keep ticks away, it may be helpful to build fences that help keep deer off your property. You could also try to remove plants that attract deer.
To eliminate places where ticks like to hide in your yard, clear out tall grass and brush from around your house and garden.
Some people spray their lawns and gardens with chemicals that are toxic to ticks. The effectiveness of this approach has not been proven, and it may not be safe for the environment. However, if you choose to spray, toxic chemicals should only be applied by licensed, professional pest control experts.
Check Your Pets for Ticks
Dogs, cats, and other domestic animals can get Lyme disease, which may cause them to develop arthritis. Pets can also carry infected ticks into your living areas. That is why you should check your furry companions for ticks regularly. You might also consider using one or more of the many pet products and preparations available to help repel ticks. Ask your veterinarian to help you choose a product that will work best for your pet.
You Can Enjoy the Outdoors
By being aware of the dangers of Lyme disease and taking appropriate precautions, you can enjoy being outdoors in the spring and summer months. And knowing the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease will enable you to get help early if you do become infected.