During the warmer months, talk of Lyme disease always surfaces. People and their pets are out and about more, so it makes sense that the chances of contracting the disease is more likely. But is it? According to the Center for Disease Control, about 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease in the United States every year.
The odds, unfortunately, are pretty good that someone you know will get Lyme disease.
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What exactly is Lyme disease?
It's a bacterial infection transmitted by Ixodes scapularis
ticks. These ticks are known as mainly as deer ticks, but on the West Coast, they're called black-legged ticks.The ticks transmit a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi
into your bloodstream.
Lyme disease causes flu-like symptoms, including a rash, often in a bull's-eye pattern, joint pain, and sometimes weakness in the limbs. The disease can affect any organ of the body, including the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, and the heart.
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What can you do to help prevent the disease? Knowledge is the best defense:
The Top 10 Things You Need To Know About Lyme Disease
- Lyme disease is a worldwide disease and has been reported on every continent except Antarctica. Just because you live in an area that gets long winters doesn’t mean that ticks don’t exist. True, many Lyme disease cases is the US are concentrated on the East Coast, but infected ticks have been reported all over the world.
- Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. The black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are the ones you really need to worry about. However, since they can be hard to detect given their relatively small size, doing a thorough body check and removing any tick is the best practice.
- You can only get Lyme disease from a tick—usually. Typically the disease is not transmittable between an infected animal or person. In rare cases, an infected pregnant woman can pass Lyme disease to her unborn children. There are some doctors that believe it can be passed through blood transfusions, but that theory is not 100% certain.
- It takes less than 48 hours for an infected tick to transmit Lyme disease. Nymphs, or immature ticks, are the primary transmitter of the disease. Since they are small and hide in hard-to-see places on the body, such as the armpits, waistband and groin, they're easily missed. Most of the time, a tick is undetected and left to feed, while the human host remains unaware.
- Not everyone who is bitten by an infected tick will get the telltale bull’s eye rash. Most infected individuals will get a circular rash, which typically occurs anywhere from 3-30 days after a tick bite. But some infected individuals never get a rash at all.
- Lyme disease is hard to diagnose. Because Lyme disease has very similar symptoms as other illnesses, it’s often misdiagnosed. Symptoms of the disease include: fatigue, neck stiffness or pain, jaw discomfort, muscle pain, joint aches, swollen glands, memory loss, cognitive confusion, vision problems, digestive issues and headaches. Many individuals do not know they were even bitten by a tick.
- Lyme disease is diagnosed with a blood test. Timing is everything when testing for Lyme. It takes 4 to 5 weeks for antibodies to appear in the bloodstream. If you're tested too soon, you can get a false negative.
- The Lyme disease bacteria is hard to kill. Even with proper diagnosis and treatment, sometimes the disease will not go away, especially if it wasn't detected early and spreads to several parts of the body. This leads to chronic Lyme disease. Untreated or undertreated Lyme disease can cause some people to develop symptoms that are difficult to cure.
- Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Since Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, treatment typically involves a course of doxycycline and amoxicillin.
- Prevention is the best defense. The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to take proper precautions when outdoors. Ticks live in grassy areas, so after a walk or hike outdoors, do a thorough check all over your body (especially on your head, your legs, on the backside of your knees, and around the waist of your pants or shorts). Be aware that ticks are small—the nymphs can be as small as a poppy seed! Don’t forget to check for ticks on your dogs and any other domesticated animal that spends time outdoors.
Lyme disease can seem scary, but knowing more about the disease will help you know what you are up against and how to prevent it. With a few precautions and vigilance, there’s no need to let that fear prevent you from enjoying time outdoors.
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Tell us in the comments: What are your biggest concerns regarding Lyme disease?