If you plan to travel to the highly endemic areas of northeastern and north-central United States, you must follow measures to protect yourself from Lyme disease. The risk of Lymedisease also exists in Canada, Europe, and Asia. Central and Eastern European countries in Europe have the highest incidence in that area.
Lyme disease is spread by blacklegged ticks infected by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Infection is usually caused by the bites of tiny, immature ticks called nymphs. The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, spreads the disease in the northeastern, north-central, and mid-Atlantic United States. The western tick, Ixodes pacificus, spreads it on the Pacific Coast.
The early symptoms occur from 3 to 30 days after being bitten by a tick and include a red, expanding rash, fatigue, fever, muscle and joint aches, chills, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. The rash can expand over a period of several days, up to 12 inches across, and produces a “bull’s-eye” appearance. It can appear on any area of the body. It’s extremely important to seek medical attention as soon as you have these symptoms, because the disease can cause serious complications such as heart palpitations or meningitis.
After days and weeks, the infection can spread and can cause symptoms such as dizziness from changes in the heartbeat, and neck stiffness and severe headaches because of meningitis. Swelling and pain of the large joints can occur. Rashes on other areas of the body can appear, as can loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face. Sharp pains can also occur.
Months and years later, 60% of untreated patients report arthritis, and 5% report neurological problems. About 10-20% of patients with Lyme disease have symptoms such as muscle and joint pains, cognitive difficulties, orfatigue that last years after treatment.
It’s important to avoid contact with ticks, so avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass. Wear long sleeves and long pants when hiking, and preferably wear clothing and boots that were treated with 0.5% permethrin. You could use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing instead.
After you’ve been in tick-infested areas, shower as soon as possible, and conduct a full-body tick check using a mirror.Parents MUST check their children for ticks. If you note a tick, use clean tweezers, and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull upwardslowly. Wash the area with soap and water.
Examine pets and equipment for ticks. Place clothes in a dryer.
It’s important to obtain treatment as soon as possible. The CDC states that “patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely.”
Doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil are some of the antibiotics used to treat the disease. Patients with neurological or cardiac complications could need intravenous treatment with ceftriaxone or penicillin.
Prevention of contact with ticks is the best way to protect yourself from Lyme disease. Be vigilant of ticks when you travel to affected areas, and use repellants and wear protective clothes. Prompt treatment is necessary to avoid complications.