Today’s guest blog is by Monica Gaidhane, MD, MPH, who is associate editor of the International Journal of Collaborative Research on Internal Medicine & Public Health and a member of the Virginia Public Health Association.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to humans by the bite of blacklegged, or deer, ticks. About 20,000 cases are reported annually in the United States. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania reported some of the highest number of cases in 2008.
People infected with Lyme disease often complain of several symptoms, although not everyone will have them all. One of the first signs of infection is a circular rash called erythema migrans, commonly known as the bulls-eye rash. It appears in about 70 percent to 80 percent of infected people and begins at the site of a tick bite. Infected people may also complain of fever, fatigue, headache and pain in the muscles and joints. If left untreated, an infected person may show severe symptoms, including loss of muscle tone on the face — known as Bell’s Palsy, severe headache, neck stiffness, dizziness and shooting pains.
Lyme disease can be successfully cured with antibiotics if treatment is given early in the course of illness. However, a small number of infected people can have some symptoms that can last from months to a few years. Hence, it’s important to avoid getting bitten by infected ticks and preventing infection.
Some prevention tips include:
• Avoid traveling or extensive exposure to known tick habitats, such as wooded, brushy or grassy areas.
• Take extra precautions in May, June and July, when infected ticks are most active.
• Call your local health department about tick-infested areas to avoid.
• Use insect repellents.
• Wear appropriate clothing and check your skin and clothes for ticks every day.
• If bitten by a tick, remove them by grasping them firmly with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and lifting gently. Ideally, ticks should be removed within 24 hours.
• Apply pesticides to control ticks around your home.
• Although deer are not infected when adult ticks feed on them, they are important in transporting ticks and maintaining tick populations. Construct fences to discourage deer from entering your property.
So whether you are hiking, camping or just strolling in the park, remember to protect yourself from tick bites to remain Lyme disease-free.
Photo credit: Public Health Image Library