With summer and the warm weather in full swing people are spending more time outside. More time spent outdoors can lead to increased exposure to insects like ticks. One risk of being exposed to ticks is Lyme disease. The disease is most commonly spread in the spring and early summer. Lyme disease is the most common arthropod-borne illness in the United States. Each year 30,000 cases of the disease are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But because of misdiagnosis and misunderstanding, it is believed that the true number of cases could be as much as 10 times the reported amount.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacteria carried by deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks. The infection can be transmitted to humans and animals if bitten by infected ticks. The disease attacks multiple systems in the body starting with the skin, spreading to the joints, nervous system and even other organs. Symptoms can linger for months or even years after treatment. If left untreated Lyme disease can lead to chronic and disabling conditions such as neurological and cardiac abnormalities.
The first sign of Lyme disease infection is usually a red, bulls-eye rash that spreads around the tick bite area. It can appear three to 32 days after the bite. After the rash, an infected person can experience flu-like symptoms, headache, muscle soreness, fever and general discomfort. The bacteria can spread though the bloodstream within days to weeks after a bite. If untreated neurological problems can occur, such as facial palsy, meningitis, spinal cord inflammation and mild encephalitis. In some cases the disease can also cause abnormal heart rhythms.
A diagnosis of Lyme disease is normally determined by an individual’s symptoms, physical evidence on the body and history of tick exposure. Blood tests can be used for diagnosis but sometimes result in false negatives if performed during the initial infection stage. Lyme disease has often been misdiagnosed because its many symptoms are similar to those associated with other diseases. Conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, MS, Crohn’s disease, and many other disease have been confused with Lyme disease.
Lyme disease can be easily cured with proper treatment. The earlier the treatment is received the better the rate of cure. The primary form of treatment is oral antibiotics. Early infection can be treated with doxycycline, amoxicillin and ceftin. Later stage Lyme disease may require intravenous (IV) treatment.
The best defense against tick bites and Lyme disease infection is prevention:
• Know where to expect ticks – wooded, grassy, brushy areas with tall grass.
• Wear proper clothing – hat, long sleeves, long pants, light colored clothing.
• Use insect repellents containing DEET
• Check clothing after being outside. Remove any ticks that are found, wash clothing in hot water and dry on high heat
• Shower within two hours of coming inside and do a full-body inspection. Ticks like body creases such as armpits, back of the knees, in and around ears, nape of the neck, around waist, and groin area
If a tick is found on the body it should be removed carefully and as soon as possible. If the tick is not engorged or swollen with blood it has not been attached long enough to spread the infectious bacteria. It takes 36-48 hours for a deer tick to transmit the Lyme disease bacteria.
The best way to remove a tick is to use pointed tweezers to grasp the tick by the head as close to the skin as possible. Do not twist or crush the body or remove the head. Pull the tick straight out, without twisting or jerking. Do not apply irritants to the tick, such as rubbing alcohol or a hot match.
At one time it was believed that people could not contract Lyme disease in North Carolina. But an increase in the number of confirmed cases throughout the state has changed that view. Although there is still debate over the total number of true Lyme disease cases and the areas of the state most affected, it is certain that Lyme disease does exist in our state and it is best to be prepared for it.
For more information about Sampson County Partners for Healthy Carolinians, visit www.scpfhc.org or call 592-1131, ext. 4240.