by Teresa Odle
It’s the most common illness caused by arthropods (basically, crawling insects), yet some cases of Lyme disease are not diagnosed; only 150,000 total cases have been reported to the CDC since 1982.
Bites from infected deer ticks cause Lyme disease through an infection with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The reason for its common name is that the disease was first recognized in a town in Connecticut called Lyme in 1975. It’s still most common in the Northeast but is slowly spreading west. Cases also have been reported along the West coast.
Diagnosing Lyme disease can be tough because the symptoms can spread throughout the body and mimic other diseases and conditions. But here are a few to watch for, especially if you’ve come in contact with a deer tick:
- Chills and fever.
- Joint and muscle pain.
- Swollen lymph nodes.
- A telltale sign of Lyme disease may be a circular rash that appears one day to one month after the tick bite. It may itch and have red splotches. The center may clear up so that the rash takes on a target-like appearance.
As Lyme disease progresses, it can cause numbness or tingling in arms and legs, a sore throat, severe fatigue, a higher fever and abnormal pulse. If not treated, Lyme disease can disable a person by causing pain and swelling that makes joints virtually immobile and neurological problems like confusion and short-term memory loss. Certain antibiotics can treat the disease if it’s caught early.
The ticks that spread Lyme disease are much smaller than common dog or cattle ticks, so many people may not know they’ve been bitten. Lyme disease usually occurs in the spring or summer, when nymph ticks are feeding, but the symptoms may not appear until later. Avoiding areas where there are ticks, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts that are light colored can help prevent tick bites.
Using tick and insect repellants that contain DEET or permethrin also helps to prevent tick bites. Experts recommend aerosol spray and light use on children; adults and children should avoid use on their hands and faces.
If you do get bitten, remove the tick as soon as possible. Use a pair of tweezers or this handy tick nipper removal tool to be sure to grab the tick by the head or mouth parts right where they’re attached to your skin. Don’t grab the tick’s body. Pull firmly and steadily. And contrary to popular belief, there is no need to irritate the tick first with a hot match or alcohol to get it to back out.