Living Well

Do You Check for Ticks?

Last updated: May 01, 2017

 

Unless you are traveling south this spring and summer, get Zika off the brain. When it comes to disease-carrying insects, your biggest threats at backyard BBQs and neighborhood playgrounds in the tri-state area are ticks, which carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

 “The risk of Zika is virtually zero for the average New Jersey resident who is not traveling to an area with Zika. There have been no local cases of Zika transmission in New Jersey,” says Daniel Hart, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Summit Medical Group.

“However, any New Jersey resident can walk into their backyard and be bit by a tick with Lyme.”

Dr. Hart says it is difficult to predict if tick activity will increase this year. It is estimated that nearly 300,000 people are infected with Lyme disease each year in the U.S, but it is difficult know for sure since many cases are not diagnosed or reported. More than 96% of infections that are reported to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention occur in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

“Since ticks feed on mice and deer, anything that affects the tick, mouse, or deer population could influence the number of Lyme cases. Humans and their outdoor activities also affect the number of exposures,” explains Dr. Hart.

What is Lyme disease?

  • Ticks carry the bacterial infection, Borrelia Burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease. This bacterium is transmitted to humans or pets when an infected black-legged tick bites and attaches to the skin.
  • Since the legs of a tick are so small they can be difficult to see. Ticks often look like a tiny black or dark brown dot on your skin.

Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms. Report any of the following signs immediately to your physician:

  • A non-itchy, reddish brown rash that may appear in large, round bull’s-eye marks with a clear center — appears in 90 percent of cases
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Facial nerve problems

How to Protect Against Ticks

Lyme disease is preventable. Here is how Dr. Hart says you can reduce your risk:

  • Perform daily tick checks. Search your body thoroughly for ticks when you come inside. Unlike mosquitoes, which bite and fly away, ticks bite and latch onto the skin. Do not forget to check children and pets.
  • Remove any ticks. Use tweezers to grasp the tick tightly. Pull the tick straight up by the head. A tick must be attached for more than 24 hours to transmit Lyme bacteria.  
  • Wear insect repellent. Apply products that contain between 20 and 30 percent DEET every time you go outside.
  • Spray clothes. Use insect repellent that contains permethrin on shirts, pants, and shoes.
  • Protect pets. Cats and dogs can carry ticks that spread Lyme disease. Spray them with topical tick and flea control products such as: Frontline, K-9 Advantix, or PetArmour.  
  • Cover up. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into your socks. Ticks cannot penetrate rubber boots.

Treatment for Lyme Disease

Infectious disease specialists at Summit Medical Group diagnose and treat Lyme disease. If you are infected, your doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics. Depending on how long you have been infected and what symptoms you have, the treatment may last from 10 days to several weeks.

When Lyme disease is not treated in some cases it can cause potentially fatal illnesses, including inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, cognitive problems, and heart complications. In serious cases, when Lyme disease affects the organs, your doctor may recommend several weeks of intravenous antibiotic treatment.

References:

  1. Interview with Daniel Hart, MD, SMG infectious disease specialist (4/4/17)
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Preventing Tick Bites on People.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 31 May 2016. Web. 4 April 2017. 
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Tick Removal and Testing.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 5 November 2015. Web. 4 April 2017.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Lyme Disease Maps.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 5 December 2016. Web. 4 April 2017.
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