Lyme disease is caused by a bacterial infection that is transmitted to humans when they are bitten by an infected deer tick. Lyme disease can affect people of any age, however, it is more common in children, elderly and those who spend time in the outdoors have a higher risk of exposure to ticks.
How do You Get Lyme Disease?
Most people get Lyme disease when they are bitten by an immature (nymphal) form of the tick. The nymphs are typically about the size of a poppy seed and since they are so tiny and the bite is painless, it is common for people not to realize they have been bitten. When a tick attaches itself to you, it can feed for several days if it is left undisturbed. The longer the tick stays attached, the greater the risk is that it will transmit the Lyme and/or other pathogens into your bloodstream. Unfortunately, if a pregnant woman is infected, they may pass Lyme disease to their unborn child.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
If Lyme disease is not diagnosed and treated early, the pathogens can spread and may burrow their way into different parts of your body, which leads to late-stage or chronic Lyme disease. It is important to understand that Lyme disease can spread to any part of your body and it can affect any body system, in fact it typically affects more than one body system. With Lyme disease, problems with the nervous and brain system, heart and circulation, and muscles and joints can develop weeks, months and even years later. Without treatment, some or all symptoms may disappear, but different symptoms will appear at different times. Early symptoms typically occur 3-30 days after the bite and late symptoms can occur days to months after the bite.
Early symptoms may include:
- Flu like symptoms, such as fever, chills, fatigue, headache, swollen lymph modes and muscle and joint aches
- EM (erythema migrans) rash, which gradually expands over several days and can expand up to 12 or more inches across. This is the most common sign of Lyme disease.
- The rash may feel warm to the touch, but it usually isn’t painful or itchy
- The rash can appear anywhere on the body
- Occasionally as the rash gets larger, it clears around the edges and looks like a bull’s eye
Later Symptoms may Include:
- Neck stiffness
- Severe headache
- Additional EM rashes on other areas of your body
- Episodes of dizziness and/or shortness of breath
- Facial palsy (droop or loss of muscle tone on one/both sides of your face)
- Heart palpitations
- Nerve pain
- Numbness, shooting pains and/or tingling in the feet or hands
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Intermittent pain in muscles, joints, tendons and bones
- Arthritis with severe swelling and joint pain, especially in the large joints
- Problems with short term memory
Avoiding areas where deer ticks live, especially in the woods and bushy areas, is the best way to prevent the risk of the infection, but you can decrease the risk of getting Lyme disease by following a few simply precautions, including:
- When you are in a wooded or grassy area, wear long pants and tuck them into your socks, wear shoes, a hat, gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. Always try to stray on an open trail and do not walk through high grass or low bushes.
- Apply an insect repellent to your skin that has a high concentration of DEET (20% or higher). Either wear pretreated clothing or spray clothing with permethrin.
- Make your yard as a tick-proof as possible by clearing the leaves and brush and keep piles of wood in a sunny area.
- After being outdoors, especially in wooded areas, make sure to thoroughly check the entire body of yourself, your children and your pets for ticks.
- Showering and using a washcloth as soon as you come indoors may also be beneficial
- If you find a tick on your body, use tweezers to remove it as soon as possible. Remove the entire tick and apply antiseptic to the area.
Remember you are not immune to Lyme disease. This is tick season, so it is important to be aware of the risks and to know the symptoms, especially when you are hiking or camping in the woods. If you have been bitten and suspect you have symptoms of Lyme disease, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The sooner treatment is received, the less risk there may be of developing chronic Lyme disease.
Along with stopping in for sports physicals, if you think you have been bitten by an infected tick, stop by PrimeCare Urgent Care to treat Lyme disease.