Spring is finally here! Time to get outdoors, do some gardening, clean up the lawn, and enjoy warmer weather after a cold, damp winter.
Just remember, ticks have been waiting for this season too! They lurk on bushes, trees, old leaves, grass, waiting for you, your children, or your pets to pass by so that they can latch on to a new host and continue their lifecycle. And they can transmit bacteria for a debilitating condition known as Lyme Disease (named for the earliest known outbreak among children in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975).
Ticks easily work their way into any crevice of your body—your armpits, your groin, your hair, your waistline—or the fur of your dog or cat. Once attached, they bury their heads into your skin and begin to feed.
Worse, they are extremely hard to detect since, at this time of year, they can be as tiny as the period at the end of this sentence. You might not even notice that you have been bitten until they swell large enough to be seen or until you develop early symptoms of fatigue, headaches, or a rash.
Such symptoms might only be disgustingly annoying, but could you have Lyme Disease?
What Is Lyme Disease?
A tick-borne infection, Lyme Disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, that results in 3 stages of symptoms:
1. Early localized (occurring within a few hours or days) – fatigue, fever, telltale rash, muscle or joint pain, or headache.
2. Early disseminated – flu-like symptoms, weakness in arms or legs, vision difficulties, heart palpitations, chest pain, rash, or facial palsy.
3. Late disseminated (occurring several weeks or months after infection) – arthritis, dizziness, severe headache or fatigue, and mental confusion.
Sometimes, but not always, a rash develops that looks like a bull’s eye or target. This usually appears at the site of the tick bite, but it can occur elsewhere on the body later.
When early symptoms appear, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. In 90% of cases, a 3-week course of antibiotics will eliminate the disease.
Later, untreated stages might require intravenous antibiotics and other measures. A blood test might confirm the presence of Lyme Disease antibodies, but the test is not considered accurate until a few weeks after infection. The test also cannot confirm that the disease has been cured since the antibodies can linger in the blood for months or even years without the disease being present.
In a few cases of late-stage Lyme Disease, debilitating symptoms can endure for years. This is a major concern for afflicted persons and their families.
For more detailed information about the disease and how it is treated, consult the following sources:
How to Prevent Lyme Disease
The best way to prevent Lyme Disease is to avoid being bitten by a black-legged tick.
· Wear protective clothing when outdoors. No flip-flops or shorts in the woods!
· Use an effective insect repellent (at least 20% DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 formula), or treat clothing and gear with 0.5% permethrin. (For help in selecting effective products for you and your family, use the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tool.)
· Examine every part of your body as soon as you return indoors. Ask relatives or friends to help you check areas that you cannot see. Don’t be bashful about this! Also remember to check the bodies of your children thoroughly.
· Check any dog or cat that has been outside every time they come in. Medications are available that prevent ticks from hosting on dogs or cats, and they generally work. But be careful, since some medications that work for dogs are toxic to cats.
The second-best way to prevent Lyme Disease is to remove any ticks promptly. Infection usually occurs only after a tick has been feeding for 24 hours.
To remove a tick, grasp it with tweezers as close to the head as possible and lift straight up.
If you need assistance removing a tick or if your attempt is unsuccessful, come to Kathy’s Urgent Care. We’ll be happy to help and to answer your questions.
Remember that the risk of Lyme Disease is highest in the Northeast, from Virginia to Maine (especially including Connecticut!). With warming climate conditions, ticks easily survive the winter and become quite active from early spring through fall.
Ticks can also carry other very serious diseases such as Powassan virus (POW) for which infection can occur within 15 minutes of a tick’s bite. The POW virus can infect the central nervous system, causing encephalitis or meningitis. There is no known cure and no vaccines or medications to prevent or treat infection.
For additional information about ticks, tick-borne diseases, and how to cope with them, see my previous blog, Ticks Can Make You Sick!
If you think that you or a family member has been bitten by a tick or if you need assistance in removing a tick, come to Kathy’s Urgent Care or another medical facility. Time can be important, and we’re open 7 days a week!
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