Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria that is transmitted by a certain type of tick. Not all ticks transmit Lyme disease: the offender is the deer tick, which is about the size of a poppy seed. Transmission of Lyme disease usually occurs after the tick has been attached to the skin for more than 24 hours. Statistics show that over the past few years, Lyme disease is showing up more often in Northern Virginia and Maryland than it did before. In addition, Lyme disease is increasingly affecting the suburbs.
Signs and Symptoms
Eighty percent of the time, a person will develop a distinct rash three to 30 days after the bite. The rash is usually an expanding red, circular rash at least 5 cm in diameter. Symptoms can progress to fever, headache, overwhelming fatigue, malaise, painful muscles and joints, and rashes. If untreated, Lyme disease can cause neurological and cardiac problems, and arthritis.
Blood testing can confirm the diagnosis of Lyme disease, but it is important to know that the test may not detect antibodies until two to four weeks after the initial infection. Most human cases of Lyme disease in North America occur between May and August.
Prevention and Precautions
- Since ticks like to “hang out” on tall grasses and brush, one good way to protect yourself is to check your hair, skin, and clothes frequently for ticks while you are outside, and especially after you get home.
- Wearing light colored clothes helps you see ticks better. Wearing a long sleeved shirt and long pants can also be helpful.
- Apply an insect repellant that contains DEET, and reapply, following the package directions. For extra protection, you can apply an insect repellant called permethrin directly to your clothes.
- After you get home, take your clothes off carefully and check for ticks that may be on them. Finally, take a warm shower with lots of soap and lather and put on clean clothes.
If a tick has attached itself to you, use a pair of tweezers, firmly grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible and use firm, steady pressure to pull it out. Make a note of the date, and watch the site carefully over the next three to six weeks. If you notice concerning symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.
There is no vaccine to prevent infection of Lyme disease. Treating with antibiotics after a tick bite has not proven to be helpful. Studies have shown that the actual incidence of infection is low since not all of the ticks carry the bacteria. Additionally, the antibiotics used to treat Lyme disease are potent and should be used sparingly.