What is Lyme Disease?
Information from the Centers for Disease Control
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, is spread through the bite of infected ticks. The blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) spreads the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States, and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) spreads the disease on the Pacific Coast.
Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.
Most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and difficult to see; they feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease bacteria, but they are much larger and may be more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria.
- Early Localized Stage (three to 30 days post-tick bite)
- Red expanding “bull’s-eye” rash called erythema migrans
- Muscle and joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Early Disseminated State (days to weeks post-tick bite)
- Additional EM lesions in other areas of the body
- Facial or Bell’s palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face)
- Severe headaches or neck stiffness due to meningitis
- Pain and swelling in large joints (such as knees)
- Shooting pains that interfere with sleep
- Heart palpitations and dizziness
- Late Disseminated Stage (months to years post-tick bite)
- Intermittent bouts of arthritis, severe joint pain, swelling
- Chronic neurological issues including:
- Shooting pains
- Numbness or tingling of hands or feet
- Short-term memory problems
According to the CDC, patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include:
- Cefuroxime axetil.
Patients with certain neurological or cardiac forms of illness may require intravenous treatment with drugs such as ceftriaxone or penicillin.Approximately 10-20% of patients (particularly those who were diagnosed later), following appropriate antibiotic treatment, may have persistent or recurrent symptoms and are considered to have Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).
Reducing exposure to ticks is the best defense against Lyme disease, as well as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other tickborne infections.
There are several steps you and your family can take to prevent and control Lyme disease:
- Avoid direct contact with ticks
- Stay away from wooded and bushy areas with high grass
- Walk in the center of trails
- Repel ticks
- Use repellents that contain 20% to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing
- Products containing 0.5% permethrin can be used to treat clothing and gear such as boots, pants, socks and tents
- Look for ticks
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks
- Conduct full-body tick check using hand-held or full-length mirror. Parents should check children.
- Look for for ticks:
- Under the arms
- In and around the ears
- Inside the belly button
- Behind the knees
- Between the legs
- Around the waist
- In the hair (most important)
- Examine gear, coats, and pets for stowaway ticks
- Tumble clothes in dry on high heat to kill remaining ticks
- CDC: Preventing Ticks in Your Yard
- CDC: Preventing Ticks on Your Pets
How to remove a tick
If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- DO NOT use folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish, covering it with petroleum jelly or using heat to make it detach from the skin.