Tick Bites & Lyme Disease Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment: What You Need to Know
Lyme Disease is the most common tick-borne infection in North America and Europe. It is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted by the bite of a black-legged tick (deer tick) and western black-legged tick.
There is good news: Not all tick species transmit Lyme Disease such as the lone star tick and the dog tick. And, the majority of people who get tick bites do not contract Lyme Disease. That’s because not all deer ticks are infected with the bacterium. However, the risk for contracting Lyme Disease increases the longer the tick is attached to your body.
Your best defense against Lyme Disease and other tick-borne infections is to minimize your exposure to ticks especially when they are most active, which is April to September.
Tips to help reduce exposure…
- Use repellent on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Ideally use products containing 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. Parents should apply this product to their children. Be careful to avoid hands, eyes, and mouth.
- You can also use products that contain 0.5 percent permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may protect for longer periods. Check the clothing manufacturer’s tag for information.
If you find ticks on your body, remove immediately and
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within 2 hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body including under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in the hair. Parents should check children thoroughly.
- Ticks can hitch a ride into your home on clothing, gear, and pets, then attach to a person later. So. it’s important to carefully examine pets, clothing, and day packs after speding time outdoors.
- To kill ticks, tumble dry your dry clothing in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes after you come indoors.
- If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.
Let’s assume you’ve done everything you can to reduce exposure. So what if you have a tick bite?
Early signs and symptoms of can appear 3 to 30 days after a tick bite, and on average, in about 7 days. Most symptoms often involve the skin, joints, nervous system, and heart.
Watch for fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, and flu-like symptoms.
There may also be a bulls-eye rash (Erythema migrans/EM rash), which occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected persons. And, it may appear on any area of the body.
The rash may expand gradually over a period of days reaching up to 12 inches or more across. It may feel warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful. Sometimes it clears as it enlarges, resulting in a target or “bull’s eye” appearance.
Later signs and symptoms can occur days to months after a tick bite, including…
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Additional EM rashes on other areas of the body
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
- Facial palsy, which is loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face
- Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat (called Lyme carditis)
- Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Nerve pain
- Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet, and
- Problems with short-term memory
Untreated, Lyme Disease can produce a wide range of symptoms, depending on the stage of infection. These include fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis.
Early and accurate diagnosis and treatment is the most effective way to combat Lyme Disease. Laboratory blood tests are helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. The CDC currently recommends a two-step process when testing blood for evidence of antibodies against the Lyme disease bacteria. Both steps can be done using the same blood sample and done together. The CDC does not recommend doing only the second test, skipping the first, which will increase the frequency of false-positive results and may lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment.
Keep in mind, lab tests are NOT recommended for patients who do not have symptoms typical of Lyme disease. Just as it is important to correctly diagnose Lyme disease when a patient has it, it is important to avoid misdiagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease when the true cause of the illness is something else.
Patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Patients with certain neurological or cardiac forms of illness may require intravenous treatment.
In a small percentage of cases, these symptoms can last for more than 6 months. Although sometimes called “chronic Lyme disease,” this condition is properly known as “Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” (PTLDS).
If you have had a tick bite or show symptoms of Lyme Disease, you can stop in any New England Urgent Care clinic. New England Urgent Care staff is trained to diagnose your condition and equipped to test and treat you without the long wait or high expense of a hospital emergency room, or when you primary care physician is unavailable.