Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is the leading cause of vector-borne infectious illness in the U.S. with about 23,000 cases reported in 2002. It is believed to be greatly under-reported, and 95 percent of cases are from northeastern, mid-Atlantic and upper north-central regions of the United States . It is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected deer ticks.

Diagnosis

Lyme disease is a multi-system inflammatory disease. Eighty percent of patients will have a "bull's eye" rash within days or weeks following a bite. This is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, fatigue, headache, muscle aches and joint pain. The incubation period from infection to onset is typically 7-14 days but may be as short as three days or as long as 30 days.

Treatment

Early treatment includes antibiotics. If left untreated for weeks or months, some patients may develop arthritis including intermittent episodes of swelling/pain in the large joints. Also, those infected will suffer from neurological abnormalities such as aseptic meningitis, facial palsy and inflammation of the brain. Rarely, cardiac problems will develop.

Prevention

  • Avoid entering areas that are likely infected with ticks, especially in spring and summer. Ticks favor moist, shaded environments with leaf litter, low-lying vegetation or wooded and overgrown grassy habitats.
  • Wear light-colored clothing such as long-sleeved shirts so ticks can be easily spotted before becoming attached. Also, tuck pants into socks or boots.
  • Apply insect repellents containing DEET to clothes and exposed skin.
  • Check daily for ticks and promptly remove any you find attached. The transmission of the bacteria from an infected tick is unlikely to occur before 36 hours of tick attachment.
  • Remove embedded ticks with fine-tipped tweezers. Do not use a hot match, nail polish, etc. Grasp it close to the skin and pull the tick's body away. Cleanse the area with antiseptic.
  • Treat residential properties with pesticides, and clear trees/brush to admit more sunlight.

Sources

CDC: Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, The American Lyme Disease Foundation and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals . The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only. For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.