According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year, and the prevalence is rising.
Since national surveillance began in 1982, the number of Lyme disease cases has increased nearly 25-fold. Lyme disease is also spreading geographically; once thought to only occur in the northeastern part of the United States, Lyme disease cases are found throughout the country.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an illness caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that is transmitted by a tick, most often referred to as a “deer tick.” Per the CDC, in 2013 (most recent report) Pennsylvania reported 4,981 confirmed and another 777 probable cases of Lyme disease making our state a “hot spot” for the disease http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/chartstables/reportedcases_statelocality.html .
Who gets Lyme disease?
Individuals of all ages can get Lyme disease. People who spend time outdoors in tick infested environments are at an increased risk of exposure. Most individuals have reported an exposure to ticks or woodland/brush habitat during the months of May through August, but exposure can occur whenever the temperature at ground level is warm enough for ticks to be active.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease often presents with a bulls-eye rash (AKA, erythema migrans), accompanied by nonspecific symptoms such as fever, malaise, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and joint pain. The incubation period, the time from the infection to the onset of symptoms, is typically 7 – 14 days, but may be as short as 3 days and as long as 30 days. The bulls-eye rash is observed in 85% or more of patients; however, some infected individuals have no recognized symptoms of the illness, or have only non-specific symptoms suggesting a viral illness.
Does past infection with Lyme disease make a person immune?
Past infection does provide some immunity, but that protection is short-lived. It is possible for a person to get infected more than once.
What should one do if they think they have Lyme disease?
Once should see their medical provider as quickly as possible especially if they have a bulls-eye rash or other symptoms of Lyme disease. It may be helpful to snap a photo of the rash you are seeing (use your cell phone), just in case you can’t see your doctor right away. If you feel you need to see a doctor urgently and your doctor is not available, you may want to be seen at a 24-hour clinic in your area or the ER of your local hospital.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Your healthcare provider will determine the best course of treatment. Generally if you recognize the symptoms early, the doctor will prescribe an oral antibiotic, but as the disease progresses the antibiotic may be given intravenously or other treatment may be needed.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Lyme disease is diagnosed by clinical symptoms or blood test panel. The doctor or medical professional may also ask you questions about exposure to wooded areas, outdoor activities, etc.
What can one do to help prevent Lyme disease?
To help prevent Lyme disease everyone should be “AWARE”:
A – Avoid tick areas when possible (wooded areas, tall grass, shrubs, etc.). If you are walking near or in wooded areas, try to stick to the center of the path and not directly next to brush or trees.
W – Wear protective clothing when going outdoors (cover skin areas as much as possible)
A – Always do body checks once you have come in from the outdoors to check for ticks.
R – Repellents may be helpful, but consult your healthcare professional first as they may discourage the use of the products if you have certain allergies, medical conditions or skin problems.
E – Easy and careful removal of Ticks.
How do I remove a tick?
Per the CDC, if you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.
Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Ms. Barnes has been employed at Woods for over 30 years and has over 25 years of experience in Infection Prevention and Control. She received her Master’s in School Nursing and Health Education from St. Joseph University in Philadelphia and her B.S. in Nursing from the Penn State University. She has great compassion for working with those diagnosed with Developmental Disabilities.
Lyme disease Organization
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lyme disease
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Emerging Infectious Disease, Dispatch, Aug. 2015
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Tick Removal