Lyme disease: Learn how to protect yourself this summer

Lyme disease is an infectious bacterial disease harbored by ticks. It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks.

Symptoms of Lyme disease can vary depending on the length of time from the initial tick bite and can include a red rash that gradually expands (usually looks like a bullseye), fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. But you can’t count on a rash to tip you off to a tick bite because some people may never develop one.

Other symptoms that can occur if the tick bite is not immediately treated which can appear anywhere from days to weeks after the bite and include loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face (Bell’s palsy), additional rashes on the body, severe headaches and neck stiffness due to inflammation of the spinal cord, pain and swelling in the large joints (such as knees), shooting pains that may interfere with sleep and heart palpitations or dizziness due to changes in heartbeat. Many of these symptoms may go away on their own, but without treatment, they may get worse.

If the disease goes undiagnosed or untreated for months to years after a tick bite, people can develop arthritis accompanied by severe joint pain and swelling. This occurs in about 60 percent of infected people. About 5 percent of people may develop chronic neurological problems which include numbness, shooting pains, tingling in the hands and feet, or short-term memory loss.

When Lyme disease is caught early, most people make a full recovery. Treatment includes a two to four week course of antibiotics. However, about 10 to 20 percent of people with Lyme disease who receive antibiotic treatment may have symptoms that are persistent and/or recur afterwards; this referred to as Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).

The key to beating Lyme disease is really prevention. The risk for Lyme disease is highest among people who live in or plan to travel to New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest. Here are the best ways to reduce your risk and prevent the disease:

  • Know where to expect ticks. Blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) live in moist and humid environments in wooded and grassy areas.
  • Use DEET repellent and wear protective clothing.
  • Check yourself for ticks daily when living in or traveling to areas where ticks are prevalent.
  • If you have a tick on you, remove it quickly. Removing it within 24 hours significantly reduces your risk for Lyme disease.
  • Know the right way to remove ticks. Use tweezers to slowly pull out the tick. It’s important to remove the entire body because sometimes the tick’s head, which still harbors the disease, can latch on to your skin.
  • Check your pets for ticks.
  • Be aware of any rashes or fevers you develop during tick season.
  • Keep your yard is tick-free by using a chemical control agent or keeping deer away.