This is one bull’s-eye you don’t want to hit. Find out the facts about this tick-borne disease and how to prevent it.
Lying on a bed of grass, hiking through woods and fields, enjoying nature’s playground: Summer brings so many opportunities to have fun outside. But these natural areas, and even your own backyard, may also bring the hidden danger of tick-borne infections. Lyme disease, spread by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, is the most common of these infections in North America, and its numbers are increasing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 300,000 Americans become infected each year.
Although the geographic distribution of Lyme disease appears to be getting wider, 96% of cases are concentrated in 14 states, according to the CDC, with the highest incidences in the mid-Atlantic region, New England and the upper Midwest. The most common states for Lyme disease include Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
But there is some good news: Because Lyme disease is spread by a bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, it can easily be treated with antibiotics. However, it’s not always easy to diagnose, so it’s important to be aware of the signs — and protect against getting it in the first place.
If the deed’s been done
Check yourself, your children and your pets daily for ticks, especially behind ears and in armpits, scalp and groin. If you see one and remove it within a day, you’ll greatly reduce the chances of getting Lyme disease, as the bacterium needs about 36 hours to be transmitted from tick to host. Using fine-tipped tweezers, grab the tick close to your skin and pull up steadily.
Then, keep an eye out for symptoms of Lyme disease. A classic “bull’s-eye” rash appears in about 70%-80% of infected people. “The rash, called erythema migrans, usually occurs within three to 30 days of a tick bite,” says Emily Blodget, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Keck Medicine of USC and a clinical associate professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “It’s not painful, but it expands over the next few days. Other symptoms to watch for include headache, fatigue and muscle and joint pain.”
Your doctor can confirm whether you’ve contracted the infection and, if so, begin treating it. “While early Lyme disease can be diagnosed if the typical rash is present, blood and bodily fluid tests are the mainstay of diagnosis,” Blodget says.
She adds that if the disease has been caught early, it’s typically treated with oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin, for up to three weeks. “If it’s more severe, with heart and nervous system involvement, intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be necessary,” she says.
Head the buggers off at the pass
It’s certainly better not to get Lyme disease to begin with. Here’s how to avoid the pests that carry it:
- When you hike, camp or walk your dog, steer clear of brush or tall grass where ticks are more likely to live. Wear long pants and long sleeves. Treat clothes, shoes and gear with a product containing 0.5% of the pesticide permethrin. Pretreated clothing is also available.
- Use an insect repellant that’s been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contains either DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD) or 2-Undecanone.
- You can protect your yard naturally, by creating a 3-foot-wide border of wood chips between the grass and the bushes and trees along the perimeter. Place play sets within the protected perimeter.
Now enjoy the rest of your summer, armed with prevention tactics that can keep you and your family healthy.