As the weather getting more pleasant in our area and we all spend more time outdoors, there is always increased risk of insect bite and as our area being populated with Deers and therefore deer ticks, the risk of contracting Lyme disease is a reasonable fear.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an illness that can make you feel like you have the flu. It can also cause a rash, fever, or nerve, joint, or heart problems.
People can get Lyme disease after being bitten by a tiny insect called a tick. When a certain type of tick bites you, it can transmit the germ that causes Lyme disease from its body to yours. But a tick can infect you only if it stays attached for at least a day.
The ticks that carry Lyme disease feed on deer and mice. Ticks are found in tall grass and on shrubs, and can attach to animals and people walking by. Ticks cannot fly or jump.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Symptoms can start days or weeks after a tick bite. They include:
- A rash where you were bitten – The rash often appears within a month of getting bitten. It is red, but its center can be the color of your skin. It might get bigger over a few days. To some, it looks like a “bull’s eye”
- Feeling tired
- Body aches and pains
- Heart problems such as a slowed heart rate
- Headache and stiff neck
- Feelings of pain, weakness, or numbness
If a person is not treated, further symptoms can occur months to years after a tick bite. These include:
- Pain and swelling of joints, such as your knees
- Trouble with your memory and thinking
- Skin problems, such as skin swelling or thinning (this occurs mostly in Europe)
What do you need to know if get bitten by a tick?
If you find a tick on your body or on your child, use tweezers to grab it. Then pull it out slowly and gently. After that, wash the area with soap and water.
You do not need to keep the tick. But knowing what it looked like can help your doctor decide about your treatment. See if you can tell:
- Its color and size
- If it was attached to your skin or just resting on your skin
- If it was big, round, and full of blood (picture 2)
You should watch the area around the bite for a month to see if a rash occurs.
It is helpful if the person can provide information about the size of the tick, whether it was actually attached to the skin, if it was engorged (that is, full of blood), and how long it was attached.
- The size and color of the tick help to determine what kind of tick it was
- Ticks that are brown and approximately the size of a poppy seed or pencil point are deer ticks. These can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterium that causes Lyme disease) and a number of other tick-borne infections.
- Ticks that are brown with a white collar and about the size of a pencil eraser are more likely to be dog ticks. These ticks do not carry Lyme disease, but can rarely carry another tick-borne infection called Rocky Mountain spotted fever that can be serious or even fatal.
- A brown to black tick with a white splotch on its back is likely a Lone Star tick; named after the white splotch . This species of tick has been reported to spread an illness called STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness). STARI causes a rash that is similar to the Lyme rash, but without the other features of Lyme disease. Although this rash is thought to be caused by an infection, a cause for the infection has not yet been identified. This type of tick can also carry and transmit another infection called human monocytic ehrlichiosis.
- A tick that was not attached, was easy to remove or just walking on the skin, and was still flat and tiny and not full of blood when it was removed could not have transmitted Lyme disease or any other infection since it had not yet taken a blood meal.
- Only ticks that are attached and have finished feeding or are near the end of their meal can transmit Lyme disease. After arriving on the skin, the tick that spreads Lyme disease usually takes 24 hours before feeding begins.
- Even if a tick is attached, it must have taken a blood meal to transmit Lyme disease. At least 36 to 48 hours of feeding is required for a tick to have fed and then transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. After this amount of time, the tick will be engorged (full of blood). An engorged tick has a globular shape and is larger than an unengorged one.
- It is not clear how long a tick needs to be attached to transmit bacteria other than Borrelia burgdorferi.
Do you need to see a doctor?
See your doctor if you have a tick and you cannot get it off or if you think you have had a tick attached for at least 36 hours (a day and a half).
Is there a test for Lyme disease?
Yes. Blood tests can show if you are infected with the germ that causes Lyme disease. But these tests won’t work if you have them right after being bitten. It takes time for an infection to show up in your body. If you have the typical rash that goes with Lyme disease, the blood test is not necessary.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics. Treatment with antibiotics should help your symptoms go away. Sometimes, symptoms improve quickly. Other times, it can take weeks or months for symptoms to go away.
Your doctor might prescribe medicine for you to take right after a tick bite. Or your doctor might wait to see if you first develop symptoms. Either way, the medicine will treat your Lyme disease.
What can you do to try to avoid getting bitten by a tick? — You can:
- Wear shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants when you go outside. Keep ticks away from your skin by tucking your pants into your socks.
- Wear light colors so you can spot any ticks that get on your clothes
- Use bug sprays to keep ticks off your skin or clothes
- Shower within 2 hours of being outdoors if you think you have been in an area where there are ticks
- Check your clothes and body for ticks after being outdoors. Be sure to check your scalp, waist, armpits, groin, and backs of your knees. Check your children, too.
- If you live in a place that has deer or mice nearby, take steps to keep those animals away. Deer and mice carry ticks.