By Anne Hart, Ohio
With approximately 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year, the search for knowledge about Lyme disease symptoms is increasing. Although several different types of ticks can carry Lyme disease, the blacklegged tick is the biggest carrier.
Will I Get Lyme Disease If Bitten?
The majority of blacklegged ticks are not infected with Lyme disease. If the tick has been attached for less than 24 to 36 hours, becoming infected with Lyme disease is very unlikely.
If Bitten By an Infected Tick, How Can I Prevent Lyme Disease?
If an infected tick has been attached more than 24 to 36 hours, the likelihood of coming down with Lyme Disease symptoms increases. If a “bulls eye” rash appears around the area of the bite, then the tick was definitely infected with Lyme disease, and immediate medical attention must be sought. The rash is circular in appearance ranging from a couple inches in diameter to 12 inches, with one or more circles inside the outer circle, in varying degrees of red. The center is often light, but can be dark red. ABC News (July, 2015) announced that an antibiotic “doxycycline” has been shown to prevent Lyme disease if taken within three days of a tick bite.
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What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. It must be treated with antibiotics.
What Are the Lyme Disease Symptoms?
There are three stages of Lyme disease. The following information regarding symptoms was obtained from the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
Stage 1: “Early localized Lyme disease.” The bacteria are localized, because they have not yet metastasized throughout the body.
Stage 2: “Early disseminated Lyme disease.” The bacteria have started to spread throughout the body.
Stage 3: “Late disseminated Lyme disease.” The bacteria have spread to all tissues in the body.
Stage 1 symptoms begin within days or weeks after the initial tick bite. Most often, these are flu-type symptoms, including fever and chills, an overall sick feeling, headache, painful joints and muscles, and stiff neck. The “bullseye” rash (described above) will usually be present. These Lyme disease symptoms may come and go for weeks; and if left untreated, the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria can spread throughout all the joints, heart and brain.
Stage 2 symptoms may occur weeks to months after the original bite, and commonly include nerve numbness or nerve pain, paralysis or weakness in facial muscles, irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
Stage 3 symptoms can occur months or years after the infection with the most common symptoms being muscle and joint pain. However, other Lyme disease symptoms can include an inability to control muscle movement, weak muscles, swollen joints, tingling sensations or numbness, difficulty with speech, and cognitive impairment. In severe cases, the resultant heart and nervous system damage can cause death.
Is Lyme Disease Curable?
Antibiotic treatment works well for most people, with a full recovery. However, there are some people who continue to have persistent and recurring Lyme disease symptoms, necessitating ongoing treatment for months, years, or indefinitely. If left untreated, Lyme disease complications can cause permanent damage to the heart, nervous system, and joints, sometimes having crippling or lethal results.
Is There a Vaccine For Lyme Disease?
A very effective Lyme disease vaccine was invented in the late 1900s but is no longer available. The vaccine manufacturer discontinued production in 2002, stating slow sales because of low consumer demand. The protection provided by this vaccine worked similar to the tetanus vaccine, which diminishes over time and must be administered every 10 years.
How Is a Tick Removed Once It Is Attached?
Misleading tales often describe the use of matches, hot irons, metal or harsh chemicals for tick removal. These methods are not advisable. If a tick is pulled off the skin after it has attached, usually the head remains buried, causing infection. The tick must be removed intact, whole, and unbroken, in order to avoid infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here’s how to properly remove a tick:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
How Big Is a Tick, and What Color Is It?
The adult male tick is about the size of a sesame seed. The female is approximately 2.7 mm long, larger than the male. From a distance of 2 feet or further, these ticks appear black, but close up, they are usually orange-brown. After feeding, they become engorged with blood, changing to a dark rusty color, and their bodies can expand to several times their original size like a balloon.
How to Prevent Tick Bites
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
1. Ticks are most commonly found in tall grass, woods and gardens. If it is necessary to walk the same path more than once through tall grass, then mow a pathway for walking. Ticks are not usually found in short grass because they need to be well above ground level in order to jump onto a passing host, such as a deer, dog, or human.
2. Wear long pants and long sleeves. Ticks can crawl onto a person’s leg underneath loose pant legs; therefore, tuck pant legs into socks or boots. Additionally, hair should be tucked up under a hat, especially long hair. Further, the headwear can be secured snuggly with a headband so that nothing can crawl under the hat.
3. Wear light-colored clothing. Ticks are easy to see against light colors.
4. Upon returning to the house, if no protection was worn on the head, run a fine-toothed comb through hair to remove any hidden ticks. Clothing should be quickly removed then either laundered or shaken outside to remove any ticks clinging to the clothes. Remember that ticks can easily crawl to the inside of clothing, so shake them inside and out. Next, give your entire body a visual check for ticks.
5. Insect repellents, such as “Deep Woods Off” repel ticks as well as other insects. Be careful to read the label, because not all repellents, or natural pest control in gardens, work against ticks.
Originally published in Countryside March/April 2017 and regularly vetted for accuracy.