Lyme Disease

During the warmer months, more and more families are doing outdoor activities.  This is also the season you may start to hear more about Lyme Disease.  June and July are the worst times for ticks, but you can get a bite anytime between April and October. Lyme Disease is spread by the bite of an infected deer or blacklegged tick. The tick is infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.  These ticks are most often found in the Northeast (from Maine to Washington D.C.), the Pacific Northwest and in the upper Midwest (Minnesota and Wisconsin). Ticks are mostly found in grassy or wooded areas.  In the summer, more skin is exposed (wearing t-shirts and shorts, bathing suits) which gives the ticks more opportunity to latch onto skin.

Ticks can bite any part of the body, but are more likely to be found in hard to see areas. These areas include the groin, armpits, and scalp.  Ticks are so small that when bitten, it probably will not be felt.  If a tick is found on the body, it should be removed immediately. Ticks should be removed by putting fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pulling upward with steady, even pressure.  DO NOT twist or jerk as this can cause the mouth parts to break off and stay in the skin.  After removing the tick, clean the area and your hands thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, iodine scrub, or soap and water.  DO NOT attempt to remove the tick with Vaseline, nail polish, heat or any other substance.  This will not make the tick come out and may make detaching it more complicated.

If you have been bitten by a tick, there is a chance you have Lyme Disease. Two of the early signs of Lyme Disease are flu-like symptoms (such as fever and aches) and a red circular rash at the site of the bite.  These may occur 3-30 days after the bite.  The rash is called Erythema Migrans (EM) and looks like a bulls-eye.  The rash can be between the size of a quarter and 12 inches across.  EM usually is warm to the touch, but is rarely itchy or painful.  It will occur at the site of the rash initially, but may appear far from the site of the bite later.  Untreated, Lyme Disease may spread to other parts of the body and produce symptoms that may come and go.  Some of these symptoms are pain and swelling in large joints (such as the knees or ankles),  funny heart beats, dizziness, poor short term memory, nausea or vomiting, mood swings, weight change, swollen glands, facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy), stiff neck, and severe headaches.  If you have any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor.  Lyme Disease is treated with antibiotics such as doxycycline or amoxicillin.  If treated in the early stages, people with Lyme Disease usually recover quickly and completely.

There are ways to help prevent tick bites.  Ticks like wooded and bushy areas, areas with high grass, and shrubbery.  If you know you are going to be in those areas, there are some precautions you can take.  If you are going on a hike, stay in the center of the trails.  Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants and tuck your pants into your socks.  Wearing a hat can help protect your scalp from ticks.  Using an insect repellent that contains 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can help protect your skin.  These repellents can last up to several hours.  Treat your clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, and tents, with a product that contains permethrin to help prevent ticks.  This product is protective even through several clothes washings.  Within two hours of coming home, bathe or shower.  This will help to wash off and find ticks that may be crawling on you.  Conduct a full-body tick check using a full length or hand-held mirror.  Parents should check children under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, between the legs, around the waist, and especially the hair. 

Don’t forget to check your pets and gear, too!  Ticks can ride home on clothing, tents and pets then attach to a person later.  Carefully examine your pets.  Dogs can carry ticks home on their coats.  Give your dog a bath with tick shampoo and make sure he wears a tick collar for prevention.  Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to help kill ticks. 

Summer is a time for fun, but you still need to be safe. Taking precaution to avoid tick bites and Lyme Disease will help keep your summer fun and enjoyable.

For more information on Lyme Disease:

  • (American Lyme Disease Foundation)