Tick-tock — Lyme disease is a year-round problem. Transmitted by tick bite, this unwanted souvenir can be picked up just about anywhere – a walk in the woods, day at the farm, or weekend camping trip. Left untreated, Lyme disease can result in chronic health problems, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms.
Lyme disease is a multi-stage, multi-system infection caused by a bacterium that is most commonly the result of a bite from an infected tick. The disease takes its name from Lyme, Connecticut, where the illness was first identified in the United States in 1975.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Symptoms typically appear within 30 days following a tick bite. One of the primary symptoms is often a circular-shaped rash that can be pink in the center and a deeper red on the surrounding skin – resembling a bulls-eye pattern. The rash can:
- Appear several days after infection, or not at all
- Last up to several weeks
- Be very small or very large (up to 12 inches across)
- Mimic skin problems such as hives, eczema, sunburn, poison ivy, and flea bites
- Itch, feel hot, or may not be felt at all
- Disappear and return several days later
Several days or weeks after a bite from an infected tick, flu-like symptoms can appear, including the following:
- Stiff neck
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints
- Low-grade fever and chills
- Poor appetite
- Swollen glands
- Painful and swollen joints may occur after several months
Symptoms of Lyme disease may resemble other conditions or medical problems. These can include:
- Neurological problems
- Heart problems
- Skin disorders
- Eye problems
- Severe fatigue
- Problems with coordination
Diagnosis, treatment and prevention
Blood and laboratory tests are necessary for an accurate diagnosis of Lyme disease. The best treatment plan is based on an individual’s situation. Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics.
Prevention begins with checking yourself and your family during and after outdoor activities. Places where ticks are commonly found include behind the knees, between fingers and toes, underarms, groin, belly button, in and behind the ears, neck, hairline and top of head.
If possible, always walk on cleared paths and pavement through wooded areas. Shower after all outdoor activities. It may take up to four to six hours for ticks to attach firmly to the skin. Showering helps remove unattached ticks.
Insect repellents that contain DEET help, but are not 100% effective. Treat clothing with a product that contains permethrin, which is known to kill ticks on contact. DO NOT use permethrin on the skin.