As we roll into summer, ensure you’re protecting your family from this tick-borne disease.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that occurs from being bitten by an infected black legged deer tick. It is the most common tick-borne infectious disease in the United States. An estimated 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while the infection can be treated with an antibiotic, it can often go undiagnosed before serious and debilitating side effects occur.
Cases of Lyme disease are heavily concentrated in the Northeast and upper Midwest U.S. Fourteen states account for more than 96 percent of reported cases. The condition began appearing in the 1970s near the area of Lyme, Connecticut, where a group of children began suffering from what appeared to be rheumatoid arthritis. Over time, researchers deduced that the group had played near the woods in that area. However, it wasn’t until years later, in 1981, that scientists were able to connect the symptoms to bacteria carried by the deer tick.
In February of this year, the CDC, in collaboration with Mayo Clinic and health officials from Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, discovered a second species of bacteria, Borrelia mayonii, which also causes Lyme disease in people. Until then, Borrelia burgdorferi was the only bacterium species believed to have caused it.
Many people who contract the disease do not even notice that they have been bitten. According to the CDC, the first symptom of the infection in more than 70 percent of B. burgdorferi cases is a rash at the site of the bite, called Erythema migrans (EM); after a few weeks, it will grow and take a bull’s eye shape. B. mayonii, however, is associated with nausea and vomiting, diffuse rashes and a higher concentration of bacteria in the blood. Patients might later experience fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, stiff neck and fatigue with both bacteria.
Because the symptoms of Lyme disease mimic other ailments, such as the flu, infected patients can go long periods of time without being properly diagnosed, thus leading to more severe side effects. When left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to facial paralysis and arthritis.
Physicians initially use visible symptoms and the patient’s medical history to identify Lyme disease. A few weeks after infection, lab tests can detect antibodies produced by the immune system in response to the infection.
Ticks are most active in the warmer months of the year, so it is important to protect your family and take extra precautions outdoors. The CDC recommends the following:
- Use repellents that contain 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin
- Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass
- Walk in the center of trails
There is no evidence that Lyme disease can be transmitted from person to person or from animals to people. But, if you have visited a region prone to Lyme disease and think you could be infected, seek treatment as soon as possible. Untreated, Lyme disease can become weeks and months of physical pain and distress.