Living Well

Lyme Disease: A Year 'Round Risk

Last updated: Oct 27, 2014

 

The changing leaves and cool, crisp days of fall invite pleasing outdoor activities such as walking and hiking. Although there are fewer insects such as bees, mosquitos, and flies during the fall and winter, ticks continue to be active and can spread Lyme disease. The good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself from tick bites and Lyme disease throughout the seasons.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial (Borrelia burgdorferi) infection that is transmitted through the bite of the tiny, difficult-to-see blacklegged tick. Many animals, including deer, mice, foxes, and horses carry the ticks that spread Lyme infection.

Your dog or cat also can carry ticks that spread Lyme disease. For this reason, it's important to check your pets for ticks after they have been outdoors. Topical tick and flea control product such as Frontline®, K-9 Advantix®, and PetArmour® can help protect your pets from Lyme disease. They also can help protect you because they kill ticks on your pets and help keep ticks from getting on you and family members. Ask your veterinarian which product is right for your pet.

Lyme Disease Facts

A tick must be attached to you or your pet for at least 36 hours to transmit Lyme bacteria.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Lyme disease cases are reported in the mid-Atlantic and New England states. But reports of Lyme disease infection are as far south as Virginia and as far west Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There also are reports of Lyme disease in Europe, Asia, and South America. For these reasons, you should guard against Lyme disease wherever you are spending time outdoors this fall and winter.

Lyme Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur within a day to a month after infection. Some people never experience early symptoms from Lyme infection. In cases such as these, serious health problems, including septic arthritis, heart problems, kidney problems, and neurologic problems, can develop weeks to months after infection.

Lyme disease symptoms can include:

  • A nonitchy, red rash that can appear in large, round bull's-eye marks with a clear center
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Aching muscles
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Facial nerve problems

“Lyme disease symptoms can be like those of other diseases such as the flu. For this reason, Lyme disease can sometimes be difficult to diagnose,” says Summit Medical Group travel medicine and infectious diseases expert Redentor S. Mendiola, Jr, MD. “You might get a red or reddish-brown rash with an expanding circular area (or bull’s eye) around the tick bite or on other parts of the body," says Dr. Mendiola. But he emphasizes that 10% of people who get Lyme disease never have a rash.

Treating Lyme Disease

Most Lyme diagnoses are based on symptoms; however, blood tests can confirm exposure to the Borrelia burgdorferi  bacteria that cause Lyme infection.

Most people with Lyme disease respond well to 10 days of oral antibiotic treatment with doxycycline or amoxicillin. People with late-stage Lyme infections might need 3 to 4 weeks of antibiotic treatment. Two to 4 weeks of intravenous antibiotic treatment might be necessary for patients with complicated Lyme disease that involves the heart and nervous system.

The longer the infection, the longer and more complicated the treatment. In addition, response to Lyme treatment can take longer in patients who have long-term infections.

 "Early detection and treatment
can prevent  many serious health problems
from Lyme infection," says Dr. Mendiola. 

Preventing Lyme Disease

Follow these steps to help prevent Lyme disease:

  • Wear light-colored clothing so you can easily see ticks
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Tuck your pants legs into your socks
  • Wear rubber boots
  • Use paths whenever possible
  • Avoid areas with tall grass and dense vegetation
  • Use an insect spray* that contains up to 50% DEET for adults and less than 30% DEET for children
  • Use an insect spray* that contains permethrin for clothing and shoes
  • Carefully check yourself, others, and your pets during your outing
  • Thoroughly inspect your skin, including your scalp, after your outing
  • Bathe or shower and use a loufa to exfoliate your skin after your outing
  • Remove attached ticks with tweezers, grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible

Insect repellent can help 
guard against Lyme disease.

When using insect repellent on your clothes:

  • Do not spray inside your home
  • Do not use it on your face
  • Do not spray wounds and irritated skin
  • Do not spray under your clothes
  • Wash all repellent off once you are inside

There is no vaccine to prevent Lyme disease in humans; however, there is a Lyme disease vaccination for dogs. Ask your vet if your dog should be vaccinated for Lyme disease.

To schedule an appointment,
please call
Travel Medicine and Infectious Diseases
at 908-277-8654.

If you believe your child aged 18 years or younger
might be infected with Lyme disease,
please call Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
at 908-273-4300.

 

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