Lyme disease is a condition with various symptoms that can mimic other disorders. It is the most common arthropod-borne illness, or “arbovirus” in the United States. A parvovirus is the name given to arthropod-borne viruses, that is, viruses that are transmitted to people and mammals by blood-feeding insects. Illness occurs when the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi) infected insect bites an animal or person and takes a blood meal. Lyme disease is an inflammatory sickness that first affects the skin, then the joints, and finally the nervous system.
There is a lot of misinformation about the disease, leading to mass confusion between fact and fiction. Despite more than 15,000 cases diagnosed annually — some years more than others — the disease is not well-understood. Location also dictates diagnosis rates. Folks who live in the higher risk areas will be more susceptible to contracting the disease, simply by being in closer proximity with the critters that carry it. Lyme, short for Lyme disease, is named after the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, where the first cases were recognized in 1975. It can be found in North America, Europe, some parts of Asia, and Australia. In the U.S., Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest where deer ticks and blacklegged ticks are the most prevalent.
Common risk factors associated with Lyme disease are ticks, tick bites, tick-infested areas, wooded areas, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, outdoor occupations, landscaping, brush clearing, forestry and wildlife and parks management.
The first symptom of Lyme disease is erythema migrans, or EM, a rash that appears three to 30 days after the initial infection. It is a red, expanding circle that may resemble a bull’s eye. The rash is not typically itchy, and is seldom painful.
EM rashes are the best early indicators of Lyme disease, especially because other early symptoms (headache, fever, joint and muscle pain and severe fatigue) are flu-like and may not be immediately diagnosable and could be confused with other ailments. In the early stages, the rash is the definitive symptom.
Blood work done in later stages, when symptoms may be easily confused with other illnesses, are more definitive since the virus has had a chance to take its hold. Later symptoms can be severe. Sixty percent of people experience arthritis or chronic joint swelling, especially in larger joints such as the knee. Some people also experience peripheral nervous system disorders such as numbness or an irregular heart beat. Some of the many symptoms of Lyme disease may disappear with or without treatment. Therefore, it is important that symptoms are not ignored because much more serious symptoms will likely develop.
In most cases, antibiotic treatments are highly effective, especially if taken during the early stage of the disease. In rare cases, and probably the most devastating component of this treatable disease, symptoms can persist for months to years after the antibiotic treatment is complete and the infection has been cured.
To reduce your risk of getting bitten by ticks and other carriers, be proactive and take proper precautions especially when you are outside in areas where ticks are likely to be, including long grass and shrubby areas along the margins of woods and fields. Wear long pants. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants so that ticks will not be able to quickly attach to your skin. DEET repellents can be applied to the skin as a barrier, although this application is not recommended for small children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other medical experts recommend the use of EPA-registered repellents for children who are within the greatest risk areas. DEET-based products in concentrations of 30 percent or less can be used on children as young as two months of age.
This summer, if your travel plans take you to places where Lyme disease is a higher risk, or if you have just come from a camping or hiking excursion, or been in a wooded area or field, check yourself and your children and quickly remove any ticks you find, paying particular attention to the nape of the neck, behind the ears and around your waistband. These are favorite hiding — and eating — places for ticks! If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers, being careful not to twist or jerk the tick. Doing so may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin, further contaminating your bloodstream. Once removed, disinfect the bite site, and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
If you or your children are exhibiting any signs or symptoms of arbovirus, either after removing ticks from your skin or after visiting a high-risk area across the globe, consult with your physician.
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