Many of you may be venturing outdoors this summer for trips to a nearby lake or camping out in the wilderness. This means it’s time to take precautions in order to prevent serious infections, especially Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria and is spread by the bite of a deer tick. It’s important to understand that not all deer ticks are infected, so not all tick bites will cause the disease.
Ticks can be found almost anywhere outdoors, but they’re mostly in grassy and heavily wooded areas. The most common hosts for ticks are deer, humans, dogs, cats, cattle, horses and some mice. Deer ticks are very small—about 1/16th inch—and brown/black or rust/red in color. The endemic areas in the U.S. are the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Here are some of the signs and symptoms that can start two days to several weeks after a bite:
- A rash (occurs in about 50% of patients) – red, quickly enlarging and takes on a bull’s eye or ring-like form. It can be itchy or warm.
- Flu-like symptoms – fever, chills, sore throat, conjunctivitis, fatigue, swollen glands, muscle aches, ear ache.
- Without antibiotics, the disease can advance to involve more body areas, such as the heart, joints and nervous system.
Lyme disease can be hard to diagnose at times. Not all patients develop a rash, and the symptoms can be vague or variable.
Despite this, the key thing to be aware of is prevention. Here are some tips to remember:
- Wear light-colored clothing so that the tick can be more readily seen.
- If practical, wear long pants/sleeves while in the woods, and tuck your pants into your socks for extra protection.
- Use a repellant containing DEET (be careful with children).
- Inspect your skin after possible exposure, especially hair-covered areas.
If you do find a tick, try removing it using tweezers and grasping the tick body (as close to the skin as possible) with a steady, upward motion until it comes out. Then wash the area with a skin disinfectant.
During this time of year, be sensitive to the risk of a deer tick bite. Protect yourself and enjoy the great outdoors!
Donna C. Diziki, M.D., is the center medical director for U.S. HealthWorks in Edison, N.J.