With summer heating up and more people outdoors, the risk of tick bites increases. That also means more concerns over getting Lyme disease. Here’s what you need to know about the disease and how it affects your short- and long-term health.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) that’s transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick. According to the CDC, there are more than 300,000 cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year.
Who’s most at risk?
The areas most affected are New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and part of the Upper Midwest. In 2016, the highest number of confirmed cases was reported in Pennsylvania followed by New Jersey. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors, hiking, hunting or camping is at risk—but also anyone who spends a lot of time in their backyard, the most common place the disease is transmitted. A black-legged tick must be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours to transmit the disease. If you remove the tick within 48 hours, you are less likely to get infected.
Symptoms to look out for
Most symptoms of Lyme disease can show up anywhere from 3 to 30 days after a bite. The wide range of early symptoms, which include fever, chills, headache, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes, often cause people to think it’s just the flu. But for nearly 80% of cases, a rash is a major warning sign. Appearing on any part of the body, it’s common for the rash to have a bull’s eye appearance, and most are round, red and at least 2 inches across. The rash gradually expands over the course of days and can feel warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful. If you have a rash like this, you should see your doctor right away.
The infection can spread
With early detection and treatment, it’s less likely Lyme disease will progress. If not treated within the first few weeks, it can spread to more areas of the body, affecting your joints, heart and nervous system. You might experience:
Flu-like symptoms with pain, weakness or numbness in the arms and legs
- Vision changes
- Heart palpitations and chest pain
- Additional rashes
- Facial paralysis
Weeks or even months or years after an untreated tick bite can result in even more serious issues:
- Joint inflammation and arthritis, typically in the knees
- Severe fatigue and headaches
- Sleep disturbances
- Mental confusion
Treatment options for the disease
Antibiotics are used to treat the disease in its early stages and cures up to 90% of cases. The 10% not able to be cured develop what’s called post-disease Lyme disease syndrome. It’s considered somewhat controversial because even experts aren’t sure why some patients develop the syndrome, which shares many symptoms with other diseases.
How you can protect yourself
The best way to prevent a tick bite and Lyme disease is to:
- Wear pants and socks in wooded areas
- Use a tick repellent with DEET, lemon oil or eucalyptus—apply to your skin and clothes
- Shower within 2 hours of going indoors
- Check your skin and wash ticks out of your hair
- Put any clothing or gear at risk into a hot dryer to kill any ticks