Tips to prevent Lyme disease

Tick-season is coming, which means the chances of getting bit by a tick will be higher than usual. Ticks cause Lyme disease. What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is an infectious bacterial disease harbored by ticks. It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks (aka deer ticks). Symptoms of Lyme disease can vary depending on the length of time from the initial tick bite.

The initial symptoms that usually occur within three to thirty days after a tick bite include a red rash that gradually expands (usually looks like a bullseye), fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. Some people may experience a rash and the other symptoms, however, other people may not have a rash. Some people may get a small bump or redness where the tick bite is which usually goes away in one to two days. This is not a sign of Lyme disease though.

Other symptoms that can occur if the tick bite is not immediately treated which can appear anywhere from days to weeks after the bite include loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face (Bell’s palsy), additional rashes on the body, severe headaches and neck stiffness due to inflammation of the spinal cord, pain and swelling in the large joints (such as knees), shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, and heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat. Many of these symptoms can go away on their own, but without treatment, can get worse.

If the disease goes undiagnosed or untreated for months to years after a tick bite, people can develop arthritis accompanied by severe joint pain and swelling. This occurs in about 60 percent of infected people. About 5 percent of people may develop chronic neurological problems which includes numbness, shooting pains, tingling in the hands and feet, or short-term memory.

When Lyme disease is caught early, most people make a full recovery. Treatment includes a two to four week course of antibiotics. However, about 10 to 20 percent of people with Lyme disease who receive antibiotic treatment may have symptoms that are persistent and/or recur afterwards; this referred to as Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).

The key to Lyme disease is prevention. The risk for Lyme disease is highest among people who live in or plan to travel to New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest. Here are the best ways to reduce your risk and prevent the disease:

  • Know where to expect ticks. Blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) live in moist and humid environments in wooded and grassy areas.
  • Use DEET repellent and wear protective clothing.
  • Check yourself for ticks daily when living in or travelling to areas where ticks are prevalent.
  • If you have a tick on you, remove it quickly. Removing it within 24 hours significantly reduces your risk for Lyme disease.
  • Know the right way to remove ticks. Use tweezers to slowly pull out the tick. It’s important to remove the entire body because sometimes the tick’s head can latch on to your skin which still harbors the disease.
  • Check your pets for ticks.
  • Be aware of any rashes or fevers you develop during tick season.
  • Make sure your yard is tick-safe by using a chemical control agent or keeping deer away.

David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor

View posts by David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel's Medical A-Team. Learn more at Visit Dr. Samadi's blog at Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
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