Busy planning your first hiking trip of the season or that weekend camping adventure?
Beware. Danger could be lurking in the form of an eight-legged, blood-sucking parasite known as the tick.
While some ticks are harmless — others are carriers of a potentially debilitating infection.
“Lyme disease is carried by ticks and it’s transmitted by ticks,” said Dr. Joseph Rahimian, an infectious disease specialist at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City. “It can cause skin manifestations, joint manifestations and it can even affect your heart and brain.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, which normally lives in mice, squirrels and other small animals. It is transmitted among these animals — and to humans — through the bites of certain species of ticks. If you live in the Northeast or out West, you are no stranger to these menacing creatures.
“Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York... all these areas have the highest rates of Lyme disease,” Rahimian told FOXNews.com.
The culprit in the Northeast is the deer tick. In the Pacific coast, the disease is spread by the western-black legged tick.
“Lyme disease cases usually peak in the summer and spring,” Rahimian said. “It’s when ticks are around.”
It’s also when we spend the most time outdoors.
So how do we protect ourselves?
Here are a five easy ways:
1. Avoid areas where there is a high concentration of ticks. This includes wooded and bushy areas with high grass.
2. Use insect repellent that contains 20 to 30 percent of the chemical DEET. Spray this on your skin as well as your clothing.
3. Cover up. Wear long a long sleeve shirt, long pants and tuck your pants into your socks or boots. Light-colored clothing is also a good idea because it allows you to spot ticks more easily.
4. Always check yourself for ticks after you’ve spent a lot of time outdoors — especially the lower part of your body.
5. Finally, if you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Be sure to remove the entire tick including the head. Use fine-tipped tweezers and grab the tick as close to the mouth, which is the part attached to your skin, as possible. If you are unable to remove the tick fully, call your doctor. Infected ticks usually don't spread Lyme disease until they have been attached for at least 36 hours.
Signs and Symptoms:
— A round, red rash that spreads at the site of the bite
— Flu-like symptoms
— Sore muscles and joints
"If you do get bitten or notice that characteristic bulls-eye lesion on your body, you should see your doctor right away,” Rahimian said. “The reason is because there are medicines that prevent you from getting the long-term consequences of Lyme disease.”
If you have early-stage Lyme disease, oral antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil are most often prescribed. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies have shown that most patients can be cured within a few weeks of taking these drugs.
But if it goes untreated, Lyme disease can lead to serious health problems including:
— Chronic joint inflammation (Lyme arthritis), particularly of the knee
— Neurological symptoms, such as facial palsy and neuropathy
— Cognitive defects, such as impaired memory
— Heart rhythm irregularities
— Memory loss
— Difficulty concentrating
— Changes in mood or sleep habits
"Getting treated early is very important… especially in the first 48 hours," Rahimian said. "There's one study that shows if you get bitten and take just one days worth of the medicine it can prevent you from getting Lyme disease in the first place. So again, seeing a doctor early after you get bitten is potentially very helpful."