What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. This spiral shaped bacterium is most commonly spread by a tick bite. The disease takes its name from Lyme, CT, where the illness was first identified in the U.S. in 1975. Lyme disease is a year-round problem, but April through October is generally the most active tick season. Cases of Lyme disease have been reported in nearly all states in the U.S. The most common areas are the Northeast, upper Midwest, and northwestern states.
What causes Lyme disease?
- Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that is spread to humans by tick bites.
- The ticks that carry the bacteria are:
- Black-legged deer tick (northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and North-Central U.S.)
- Western black-legged tick (Pacific coastal U.S.)
- Not all ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria. Depending on the location, anywhere from less than 1 in 100 to more than half of the ticks are infected with it.
While most tick bites are harmless, several species can cause life-threatening diseases.
Tick-borne diseases include:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Lyme disease
- Colorado tick fever
- Powassan encephalitis
- Relapsing fever
Can Lyme disease be prevented?
People aren't able to become immune to Lyme disease. So even if you've had Lyme disease, you can get it again. No vaccine is available currently to prevent the disease in humans.
To help prevent Lyme disease, follow these guidelines:
- Dress appropriately to prevent and identify tick bites by wearing:
- Light-colored clothing
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Socks and closed-toe shoes
- Long pants with legs tucked into socks
- Other methods may also help:
- Shower after all outdoor activities are over for the day. This may wash away ticks before they become fully attached to your skin.
- Check pets and children for ticks.
- Insect repellents :
- Strongly consider using repellents. Remember to use all repellents safely.
- Use a product with DEET to repel ticks.
- Products that have permethrin can be sprayed only on clothing, not on your skin.
Checking for ticks
Look for ticks often on:
- All joints: behind the knees, between fingers and toes, and on underarms
- Other areas where ticks are commonly found: belly button, neck, hairline, top of the head, and in and behind the ears
- Areas of pressure points, including anywhere that clothing presses tightly on the skin
If you find a tick:
- Do not touch the tick with your bare hand.
- Use a pair of tweezers to remove the tick. Grab the tick firmly by its mouth or head as close to your skin as possible.
- Pull up slowly and steadily without twisting until it lets go. Don't squeeze the tick, and don't use petroleum jelly, solvents, knives, or a lit match to kill the tick.
- Save the tick. Place it in a plastic container or bag so it can be tested for disease, if needed.
- Wash the bite area well with soap and water and put an antiseptic lotion or cream on the site.
- Call your healthcare provider to find out about follow-up care. If the tick is discovered within the first 72 hours after the tick bite, a single dose of doxycycline may be prescribed to help prevent Lyme disease.
- Most experts don't recommend that the tick be tested for the Lyme bacteria. If negative, this testing is not always accurate. If testing is positive for the germ, it doesn't mean you were infected.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Many people infected with the Lyme bacteria will never have symptoms. Their bodies will cure the infection without needing any treatment. If the infection causes symptoms, the following are the most common ones that people have. They vary based on how long the person has had the infection.
The primary symptom is a red rash that:
- Can appear several days after infection, or not at all
- Can last up to several weeks
- Can be very small or grow very large (up to 12 inches across), and may resemble a "bulls-eye"
- Can mimic such skin problems as hives, eczema, sunburn, poison ivy, and flea bites
- Can itch or feel hot, or may not be felt at all
- Can disappear and return several weeks later
Several days or weeks after a bite from an infected tick, you may get the rash again. When the rash returns, it often affects many parts of the body.
You may also have flu-like symptoms, such as:
- Stiff neck
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints
- Low-grade fever and chills
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Poor appetite
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your COPC healthcare provider know.