Hold the Lyme!
Last updated: May 22, 2012, 10:52 AM
By Joy Pierce Mathews for Summit Medical Group
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial (Borrelia burgdorferi) infection that is transmitted through the bite of the tiny, difficult-to-see blacklegged tick. You might have heard that deer carry the Lyme disease tick; however, many animals, including rodents such as mice as well as foxes and horses carry the ticks that spread Lyme infection.
Lyme Disease Facts
People as well as dogs, cats, and horses can get Lyme disease. You can help protect dogs and cats from tick bites with a topical tick and flea control product such as Frontline®, K-9 Advantix®, and PetArmour®. Ask your veterinarian what product is right for your pet.
The good news is that a tick must be attached to you or an animal for at least 36 hours to transmit Lyme bacteria. This means you have time after your outdoor activities to protect yourself from Lyme infection!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Lyme disease cases (94%) were reported from:
- New Jersey
- New Hampshire
- New York
Although it is most common in the United States, Lyme disease also has been found in Europe, Asia, and South America. For these reasons, you should guard against Lyme disease wherever you’re traveling this summer.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
Symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur within a day to a month after infection. Some people never experience early symptoms from Lyme infection. In cases such as these, serious health problems, including septic arthritis, heart problems, kidney problems, and neurologic problems, can develop weeks to months after infection.
Lyme disease symptoms can include:
- A nonitchy, red rash that can appear in large, round bull's-eye marks with a clear center
- Stiff neck
- Aching muscles
- Joint pain
- Facial nerve problems
“Lyme disease symptoms often are similar to those of other diseases such as the flu. For this reason, Lyme disease can sometimes be difficult to diagnose,” says Summit Medical Group travel medicine and infectious diseases expert Redentor S. Mendiola, Jr, MD. “You might get a red or reddish-brown rash with an expanding circular area (or bull’s eye) around the tick bite or on other parts of the body," says Dr. Mendiola. "But 10% of people who get Lyme disease never have a rash,” he says.
Treating Lyme Disease
Most Lyme diagnoses are based on symptoms; however, blood tests can confirm exposure to the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that cause Lyme infection.
Most people with Lyme disease respond well to 10 days of oral antibiotic treatment with doxycycline or amoxicillin. People with late-stage Lyme infections might need 3 to 4 weeks of antibiotic treatment. Two to 4 weeks of intravenous antibiotic treatment might be necessary for patients with complicated Lyme disease that involves the heart and nervous system.
The longer the infection, the longer and more complicated the treatment. In addition, response to Lyme treatment can take longer in patients who have long-term infections. "Because early detection and treatment can preempt many serious health problems that can occur as a result of Lyme infection," says Dr. Mendiola, "it's wise to see your doctor if you have symptoms that suggest you might have Lyme disease."
Preventing Lyme Disease
Try these steps to prevent Lyme disease:
- Wear light-colored clothing so you can easily see ticks
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
- Tuck your pants legs into your socks
- Wear rubber boots
- Use paths whenever possible
- Avoid areas with tall grass and dense vegetation
- Use an insect spray* that contains up to 50% DEET for adults and less than 30% DEET for children
- Use an insect spray* that contains permethrin for clothing and shoes
- Carefully check yourself, others, and your pets during your outing
- Thoroughly inspect your skin, including your scalp, after your outing
- Bathe or shower and use a loufa to exfoliate your skin after your outing
- Remove attached ticks with tweezers, grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible
There is no vaccination to prevent Lyme disease in humans; however, there is a Lyme disease vaccination for dogs.
Dr. Mendiola emphasizes that although spending time outside increases the odds you might get Lyme disease, it's important to remember that you can get a tick bite any time you're outside and any time of year. He adds, "Ticks also carry other bacteria that can cause health problems, so it's always important to protect yourself when you're outside and carefully check yourself and others, including your pets, when you come inside."
For more information about Lyme disease or to schedule an appointment,
please call Summit Medical Group Travel Medicine and Infectious Diseases
If you believe your child aged 18 years or younger might be infected with Lyme disease,
please call Summit Medical Group Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
*Insect repellent is an important tool for guarding against Lyme disease; however, insect repellents should be handled carefully. When using insect repellent on your clothes, do not spray inside your home, do not use it on your face, do not spray wounds and irritated skin, and do not spray under your clothes. Wash all repellent off once you are inside.