Lyme Disease is caused by the bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected black legged tick. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a distinctive “bulls eye” shaped skin rash called erythema migrans. If not treated, Lyme disease can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
Lyme disease was first recognized in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 after an unusual outbreak of arthritis. Lyme disease cases are most frequently in Northeastern and upper Midwest states and rates continue to increase. In 2007, there were more than 300 new cases of Lyme disease in Montgomery County. Public health officials are working with the Parks Department and the County’s Recreation Department to educate the public about Lyme disease and how to prevent it.
How Can You Catch Lyme Disease?
The black legged tick (also known as the deer tick) is the most common carrier of Lyme disease. The ticks are usually found in wooded areas or areas with tall grasses and low vegetation.
Ticks have life cycles that last approximately two years. Although Lyme disease can be transmitted at any stage of the life cycle, most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny—about the size of a pinhead—and difficult to see. They feed during spring and summer months.
Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease but they are larger and are more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. Adult ticks are most active during the cooler months of the year.
Ticks crawl on to animals or persons as they brush against them—ticks cannot jump or fly. Ticks found on the scalp usually have crawled there from lower parts of the body. Ticks feed on blood by inserting their mouth parts (not their whole body) into the skin of a person or animal. Ticks are slow feeders—a complete blood meal can take several days. As they feed, their bodies enlarge.
The risk of exposure to ticks is greatest in the woods and in the edge area between lawns and woods but ticks can also be carried by animals into lawns and garden and into the house by pets. Campers, hikers, outdoor works, and others may be exposed to infected ticks in wooded, brushy, and grassy places.
Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease
One or more of the following symptoms usually mark the early stages of Lyme disease:
- A skin rash, called erythema migrans
- Chills and fever
- Muscle and joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
The skin rash appears at the site of the tick bite, usually within three days to one month after the bite of an infected tick. The patch grows larger and as it gets larger, the center of the rash clears giving it a “bull’s-eye” appearance. Multiple rashes may appear. Common sites are the thighs, groin, trunk and armpits. The rash does not itch or hurt and not be noticeable.
Some signs and symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until weeks, months or even years after a tick bite:
- Arthritis is most likely to appear as brief bouts of pain and swelling, often in one or more large joints, especially the knees
- Nervous system symptoms can include numbness, pain, nerve paralysis and meningitis (fever, stiff neck and severe headache)
- Rarely, irregularities of the heart rhythm may occur
- Problems with memory or cognition, fatigue, headache and sleep disturbances sometimes persist after treatment
Different people develop different symptoms of Lyme disease. Some never develop a bull’s-eye rash and some people develop only arthritis. For others, nervous system symptoms are the only sign of Lyme disease.
If you experience these symptoms and have been in an area that may be infested with ticks, be sure to tell your doctor that you have been in a tick-infested area. If Lyme disease is detected and treated early, symptoms are usually mild and easily treated.
How to Prevent Lyme Disease
Ticks cannot jump or fly onto humans or animals. They wait on low vegetation and attach to hosts (mice, deer and people) as they walk by. Follow these steps to protect yourself:
- Avoid areas with lots of ticks
- Avoid wooded and bushy area with high grass and leaf litter
- Take extra steps late spring through early fall when ticks that transmit disease are active
- Walk in the center of the trail when in wooded areas or areas with high grass
Keep ticks off your skin
- Apply insect repellent with 20% DEET or more on skin and clothing when you go outdoors—make sure you cover your children too
- Permethrin sprayed on clothing kills ticks on contact and provides protection through several washings. DO NOT USE PERMETHRIN ON SKIN.
- Cover up by wearing long pants, long sleeves and long socks. Light-colored clothing will make it easier to spot ticks. Tucking pant legs into socks or boots and tucking shirts into pants help keep ticks on the outside of clothing
Perform tick checks
- Remove ticks from your clothes before going indoors. Wash clothes with hot water and dry using high heat for at least one hour
- Check your body and your child’s body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your backyard. Check all parts of your body such as armpits, behind ears, and in groin area, and remove any ticks you find.
- Safely remove ticks. Early tick removal may reduce the risk of infection. Follow these steps to safely remove ticks from animals and humans-
- Use fine-tipped tweezers and protect bare hands with a tissue or gloves to avoid contact with tick fluids.
- Grab the tick close to the skin. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this may cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin
- Gently pull straight up until all parts of the tick are removed.
- After removing a tick, wash hands with soap and water or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Clean the tick bite with an antiseptic such as iodine, rubbing alcohol, or soap and water.
- Contact your doctor if you develop fever, headache, fatigue, or rash.
- Use tick medicine or collars on dogs and cats. Check pets regularly for ticks.
Control Ticks Around Your Home and Community
- Create tick-safe zones by removing lead litter and brush around your home and at the edges of lawns. Place wood chips and gravel between lawns and wooded areas. Mow the lawn and clear brush regularly. Keep play equipment, decks and patios away from yard edges and trees.
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