Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria belonging to the Borrelia family. The disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, known as a deer tick. The tick becomes infected after feeding on infected deer or mice.
A tick needs to be present on the skin for 24 to 48 hours to transmit the infection. Most people with Lyme disease have no memory of a tick bite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is the most common disease spread by ticks in the northern hemisphere. It affects about 300,000 people a year in the United States and 65,000 people a year in Europe.
The disease is more common in areas that are grassy and heavily wooded than the flat plains. In the U.S., it is concentrated heavily in the northeast and upper Midwest regions of the country.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of this infectious disease vary and usually appear in three different stages – early localized, early disseminated and late disseminated.
Stage 1: Early Localized
In this first stage, symptoms generally appear in a localized area about one to two weeks after the tick bite. The most common sign is a “bull’s-eye” rash, which indicates that bacteria are multiplying in the bloodstream.
The erythema migrans rash is present at the site of the tick bite, with a characteristic red spot at the center surrounded by a clear area with redness at the outer edge. The rash is not painful and does not even cause itching but may feel warm to the touch.
Stage 2: Early Disseminated
This stage occurs several weeks after the tick bite. As the bacteria begin to spread throughout the body, rashes may appear in areas other than the site of the bite. You may experience flu-like symptoms, such as chills, fever, sore throat, fatigue, muscle pain and a headache.
Other signs include enlarged lymph nodes and vision changes.
Neurological signs like numbness, tingling and Bell’s palsy (facial drooping) can also occur.
Stage 3: Late Disseminated
If the infection is not properly treated in the first two stages, Lyme disease enters the third stage. At this point, you may experience symptoms including severe headaches, joint pain, numbness in different body parts, mental fogginess, disturbances in heart rhythm, short-term memory loss, mood changes and sleep problems.
Tips to Prevent Lyme Disease
1. Avoid Wooded and Bushy Areas
One of the best ways to prevent getting exposed to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is to avoid areas where deer ticks live.
Areas where there is a high concentration of ticks include wooded, bushy areas with long grass. Avoid these places as well as areas littered with leaf debris, especially during the spring and summer months.
Particularly in the north central and northeastern regions of the U.S., try to plan hikes or other outdoor activities carefully during the spring and summer months. If going for a hiking trip, stick to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass.
Dogs can also pick up the ticks, so keep your dog on a leash.
2. Dress Properly
Wearing shorts and T-shirts may look like a comfortable option, especially during the summer season and on hiking trips. But if you live in a deer-tick infested area, you need to wear clothes more sensibly.
When in wooded or grassy areas, cover up as much of your skin as possible. It’s best to wear shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves to keep ticks from biting you. Make sure the clothes you choose are tight at the waist, wrists, ankles and neck.
Also, choose clothes in light shades. This is important as light-colored clothing will help you spot insects and ticks more easily.
3. Use Insect Repellent
Insect repellents are effective at protecting you from insects, including deer ticks.
When you need to go out, especially in woody or bushy areas, apply insect repellent on your skin. Parents should apply repellant on their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth. However, insect repellants are not recommended for children under age 3.
As chemical repellents can be toxic, you can try natural repellants. For instance, oil of lemon eucalyptus gives the same protection as any commercial product. You can spray this oil diluted with carrier oil on your skin as well as your clothing.