Along with warm weather comes an increased risk of tick bites and tickborne diseases, including Lyme disease, which usually leads to fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash resembling a “bull’s eye.” Approximately 300,000 cases of the disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention annually in the U.S.
What are the symptoms?
The classic “bull’s-eye” rash will develop around the initial tick bite anywhere from 3 to 30 days after a person is bitten. Don’t rely on seeing the rash, though. Sometimes it can be hidden under hair or in harder to see areas. The rash may be accompanied by:
If you have these symptoms, especially if you live in an area known for Lyme disease or have traveled to such an area, you should seek medical attention right away. If left untreated, symptoms can be more severe and include:
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Pain and swelling in large joints
- Heart palpitations, dizziness
- Drooping of the face on one or both sides, a condition known as Bell’s palsy.
- Shooting pains.
Months or years down the road, many people with untreated infection can develop arthritis, especially in the knees. A small number of patients develop neurological problems, including numbness, pain, tingling in the extremities and memory problems.
How is Lyme disease treated?
A medical professional will ask about your symptoms, confirm the disease history of exposure to infected ticks, and do blood tests to verify you have the infection. After that, treatment should begin promptly. Oral antibiotics are used in most cases and almost all people make a full recovery, especially if treatment happens in the early stages of the disease.
In some cases, however, especially when a person is diagnosed and treated in the later stages of Lyme disease, symptoms can be persistent or recurrent even after treatment. This is known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, which can cause residual fatigue, pain, headaches, or joint and muscle aches. In most people, these symptoms go away within six months to a year. It’s not clear why these symptoms occur and physicians don’t yet have good treatments that reliably help the symptoms. Extended courses of antibiotics have not been shown to reliably help symptoms of post-Lyme disease syndrome.
How can I prevent Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is primarily concentrated in the Northeast and upper Midwest (although the ticks can also be found in the South, Southeast and mid-Atlantic U.S. and on the West Coast). Experts agree the best defense against the black-legged ticks that carry Lyme disease is reducing exposure to them.
- Walk in the center of trails and avoid wooded areas and areas with high grass. If you go walking in these areas, check yourself for ticks and have someone check hard to see areas for you.
- Use 20 to 30% DEET in your insect repellant. Apply to exposed skin and clothing. Reapply according to instructions.
- Use products containing permethrin on clothing, boots and other gear like tents.
- Tuck long sleeved shirts into pants and long pants into socks.
- Consider pesticides to eliminate many ticks that may be in your yard. Check with local health officials about the best time to do so.