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Fighting Lyme disease

Created date

August 22nd, 2014
deer tick
deer tick

There is a lot to enjoy outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall months—the blooming of the trees, lush gardens, the vibrant colors of the changing leaves. But there is a growing threat to all who venture outside during this period and, often, it is no bigger than a sesame seed.

Today, the presence of the deer tick is more pervasive than ever, particularly in rural and suburban areas with a sizable population of deer. 

It all begins when the tick feeds on a rodent, many of which carry a bacterium known as borrelia burgdorferi. Once infected, the ticks go on to mate and feed on deer, which ultimately become carriers or “reservoir hosts” for the disease. 

As the deer and ticks spread throughout heavily populated neighborhoods, humans come in contact with the bacterium via tick bites, thus contracting Lyme disease.

Genesis of the name

The disease takes its name from the town of Lyme, Conn., where, in the mid-1970s, a group of concerned mothers noticed a strange outbreak of arthritis in the community’s children. After further investigation, doctors discovered that these cases were the result of a tick-borne bacterium that attacked the joints and central nervous system. 

Since then, cases of the disease have exploded up and down the eastern seaboard. From Virginia to Rhode Island and in upper mid-western states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, Lyme has become the seventh most common nationally notifiable disease, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Yet, as always, awareness is everything. Knowing about the disease, its causes, its symptoms, and ways to prevent them are crucial to staying out of harm’s way.

Prevention

We’ve all heard the adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is certainly the case when it comes to Lyme disease.

First, think ahead. Before you go outside, dress in long pants (tuck your cuffs into your socks), wear a hat, and apply insect repellents such as DEET, many of which are effective for ten hours per application.

Once outdoors, avoid excessive contact with tall grass, tangled thickets, low-hanging limbs, even your well-manicured shrubbery. Picking up a tick is as simple as brushing against any one of these.

When you come inside, take a shower and perform a thorough body check. Examine your scalp, back, armpits, navel, ankles, feet, and behind your knees. 

Finally, know what to look for. The ticks can range in size, anywhere from a sesame seed to a raisin, depending on how long they’ve been feeding; if you don’t have someone to help you, use a long-handled mirror.

Symptoms

When the deer tick bites, it must feed for at least 24 to 36 hours before it can transmit the bacterium that causes the disease. Early recognition of the symptoms is the next best thing to preventing them entirely.

“The first thing you might notice is a target-shaped rash,” says Dr. Bobbi Pritt, director of clinical parasitology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. “This rash will occur in greater than 80% of patients.”

According to Pritt, this rash will normally develop at the site of the tick bite. If you discover a tick, carefully remove it with a pair of tweezers and see your doctor immediately.

In addition to a rash, patients may also experience fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes, most of which appear within 3 to 30 days post-tick bite.

Treatment

Early treatment of Lyme disease is the key to avoiding potentially long-term side effects, which can include semi-paralysis of the face, arthritis, and complications within the central nervous system.

“If you find a tick or notice symptoms like a strange rash, go to your doctor,” states Pritt. “Especially if you have a rash, they shouldn’t even bother testing you for the disease; they should just treat it, which they can do with an antibiotic.”

As Pritt explains, a complete cycle of the medication should cure the disease; however, she cautions patients that some symptoms may linger.

“Patients who delay in seeing their doctor are at risk for long-term side effects,” she says. “Even after the bacterium itself is dead, the body can develop an autoimmune response that will prolong joint pain and other symptoms.”

“Lyme disease is absolutely treatable,” adds Pritt. “But prevention and awareness are the best medicine.”

For more information on Lyme disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/lyme.

 

Statesreporting most cases of Lyme disease

In 2012, 95% of Lyme disease cases were reported in these states: 

Connecticut

Delaware

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Minnesota

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York

Pennsylvania

Vermont

Virginia

Wisconsin

Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

 

Recommended insect repellents

 Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard

 B-Bite Free Insect Repellent 

 GoReady Insect Repellent 

 Jungle Juice 100 Insect Repellent Spray

 Maxi DEET Insect Repellent

For a complete list of repellents, visit http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect.

Source: Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

 

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