Lyme disease is a growing problem in the United States. Part of the reason for this is that the disease can go unnoticed for years and can become too embedded in body tissue over time to be cured by antibiotics. People are particularly at risk of catching this disease during the summer months, as more time is generally spent outdoors. Lyme disease is the most common illness spread by ticks in North America and Europe.1 Deer ticks survive off the blood of animals – generally deer as their name suggests – but have been known to feed on humans as well. A tick can spread the illness by biting a human. People spending significant time outside in grassy or wooded areas should be especially wary of ticks. For summer hikers and campers, take extra precautions to stay safe when out in wild, and if bitten see a physician to get tested for Lyme disease.
Lyme Disease 101
Lyme disease is a particularly dangerous illness because the symptoms can lie dormant for an extended period of time. While Lyme disease can generally be cured with several weeks of antibiotic treatment if diagnosed immediately, once the disease has time to take hold antibiotics become useless to fighting the disease. The illness is spread by infected blacklegged ticks. These bugs generally attach to humans in hard to see areas such as the armpit, groin or scalp.2 A tick generally must be attached to a host for 36-48 hours to spread the disease.3 This is why Lyme disease is transmitted to humans mainly by smaller ticks – called nymphs – that are harder to spot.
The majority of cases are reported in the midwest and east coast regions of the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95 percent of Lyme disease cases in 2012 were reported within the same 13 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.4
Lyme disease is considered an under-researched illness, which is potentially one of the reasons it often remains undiagnosed. Professionals in the pharm tech industry continually developing more powerful antibiotics that could potentially help in the treatment of this illness.
Indications of the illness are wide ranging. Some key symptoms of Lyme disease include rash, fever, chills, fatigue, body ache and headaches.5 One of the earliest signs of the illness is a red bump that appears at the spot of the tick bite. This spot will expand outward into a bullseye rash that is a hallmark sign of Lyme disease. If experiencing one or several of these patterned rashes, see a medical professional immediately to get a blood test. It is important to get tested as soon as possible after exhibiting symptoms, as otherwise, antibiotic treatment may lose it’s ability to effectively stop the illness.
When Lyme disease goes untreated, it can lead to harmful long-term symptoms such as joint pain and swelling, especially in the knees.6 Other long term risks include brain inflammation and facial paralysis and impaired muscle movement. Rare signs include eye inflammation and irregular heartbeat.
Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome
Even if the illness is properly treated with antibiotics lingering symptoms can remain present for several months. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of patients treated for Lyme disease develop Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), sometimes referred to as chronic Lyme disease.7 Medical experts believe PTLDS is caused by lingering damage to tissue and nerves, though the exact reasons for this ailment are still unknown. Do not continue using antibiotics to try and battle PTLDS. Studies have suggested that continuing antibiotic treatments will in no way prevent PTLDS.8 Track your symptoms and discuss ongoing health problems with a doctor.
There is a number of common sense methods for mitigating the risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Here are some tips for preventing Lyme disease:
- Stay on trails when hiking or jogging. Ticks thrive in wooded areas, so be extra cautious when veering off the beaten path.
- Regularly apply bug repellent to both exposed skin and clothing. Evenly distributed bug repellent will help ward off ticks and other insects.
- Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts when in wooded areas. Since ticks attach to bare skin, the less exposed the better.
- Shower directly after working or playing in an woodsy or grassy outdoor area. Wash thoroughly to rinse off ticks. Inspect your body for ticks while showering, paying specific attention to areas such as the armpits and scalp.
- Wash and dry clothes that were worn extensively outdoors, as ticks can enter your home on clothing and then attach themselves later. Dry clothes for at least an hour to ensure the heat kills any ticks.
- Cats and dogs are susceptible to Lyme disease, but do not spread it. However, check your pets regularly for ticks for their health and your own. Remove ticks found on your pets immediately.
- Regularly mow your lawn and weed whack high grass areas where ticks flourish.
1“Lyme Disease Definition” by Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/definition/con-20019701
2“Lyme Disease Transmission” Centers for Disease Control. January 11, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/index.html
3“Lyme Disease Transmission” Centers for Disease Control. January 11, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/index.html
4“Lyme Disease Map” Centers for Disease Control. September 16, 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/maps/map2012.html
5“Lyme Disease Symptoms” by Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. October 3, 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/symptoms/con-20019701
6“Lyme Disease Symptoms” by Mayo Clinic Staff. Mayo Clinic. October 3, 2012. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lyme-disease/basics/symptoms/con-20019701
7“Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” Centers for Disease Control. February 24, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/postLDS/index.html
8“Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” Centers for Disease Control. February 24, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/postLDS/index.html