NEW YORK – Lyme disease strikes more than 15,000 people in the U.S. every year, and strikes fear in many more.
But three new studies suggest that the threat of infection has been exaggerated. Even if you are bitten by a Lyme-infected tick, one dose of medicine can cure you.
Dr. Robert Nadelman of the Westchester Medical Center spent 10 years studying 482 people bitten by deer ticks.
Of the half that were untreated, only three percent developed Lyme disease. Members of the other group, who were given a single dose of antibiotics, fared even better with only one person falling ill.
Those who do go on to develop Lyme disease can be cured with a longer course of antibiotics.
"My daughter is being treated for Lyme disease right now. She has a rash around her ear. She's in a lot of pain ... headaches, but she's on antibiotics, and she's doing fine, and she's gonna do fine," said Dr. Nadelman.
"That's most people's experience. You feel very sick initially, but most people get better and most people go on with their lives," he said.
Still, if you spend a lot of time outdoors — especially in suburban or rural areas of the Northeast — you should consider yourself as at risk for Lyme disease, and should do a tick check from head to toe every night.
It takes 24 hours for a tick to dig in to your skin, so if you find one, you can probably just knock it off with a washcloth or pull it off with a pair of tweezers.
"To merely find a tick crawling on you, or a tick that is lightly attached to you, that's not likely to have given you Lyme disease," said Dr. Leonard Sigal of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
"Less than one percent of those people will get Lyme disease from that encounter," he said.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include a rash, fever and muscle aches. If untreated, it can lead to arthritis or neurologic and heart problems.
But new studies also suggest that a significant number of people who exhibit symptoms of Lyme disease are actually suffering from some other condition, making an accurate diagnosis that much more difficult.