By Gail Marsh
Spring has sprung – several weeks ago! That means adult ticks and their babies (nymphs) are active. Really active! After sheltering under leaves and other decomposing matter, the little blood-sucking creatures are searching for hosts. And that could mean trouble for those of us who enjoy the outdoors. The reason? Ticks carry and transmit disease. The black-legged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) is notorious for carrying the Lyme disease bacteria or Borrelia burgdorferi.
So, you may be thinking, what are the actual chances of me getting Lyme disease from a tick bite? Scientists say outdoor enthusiasts who live in highly affected parts of the country have up to a 50% chance of getting bitten and subsequently becoming infected with Lyme disease! I don’t know about you, but those odds are much higher than I would have guessed. Whether you’ll get Lyme disease depends on the species of tick, how long the tick is attached to you, and where the tick came from.
The symptoms of Lyme disease may vary from person to person – and there are a lot of symptoms. Most people affected report running a fever, experiencing ongoing fatigue, and having frequent headaches. In addition, many folks experience chills, body aches, and a general feeling of discomfort. The most obvious Lyme disease symptom is a distinctive red rash that resembles a bull’s eye or ringed oval shape. It will appear at the site of the tick bite but doesn’t usually itch. A subsequent rash may occur anywhere on the body. Lyme disease can also cause joint and muscle pain and/or swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms may present a few days after a tick bite but sometimes symptoms may not appear until months or even years after a bite!
Diagnosing Lyme disease
As one RV Travel reader recently pointed out, it can be hard to correctly diagnose Lyme disease:
My wife has had symptoms for 2 months now. She has gone through a barrage of 6 tests and has one to go. She also had the bite rash. Preliminary results suggest she was bitten but the tick may not have been carrying Lyme.
And there’s the issue. Ticks can carry a wide variety of different illnesses. Different tick species carry different diseases. In addition, the symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to many other illnesses. Doctors will often run tests to rule out these other illnesses as a first step. The reason? In the first few weeks after a bite, antibody tests are not reliable. (The body’s immune system hasn’t yet formed enough detectable antibodies.) In the time it takes to get a correct diagnosis, the Lyme symptoms may have worsened or changed.
Any good news?
Actually, yes! Lyme disease is treatable. Doxycycline, Amoxicillin, or Cefuroxime are usually the first-line treatments and are taken as oral antibiotics for seven to 14 days after diagnosis.
The bad news? Sometimes after antibiotic treatments, 10-20% of people continue to experience symptoms. This “post-Lyme disease syndrome” can last for months or even years and can affect mobility and cognitive functions. Medical experts still don’t know why this happens to some folks but not to others.
What can I do?
You can lower your Lyme disease risk by:
- Wearing long pants, socks, and long-sleeved shirts when hiking, etc.
- Using head protection (ticks are difficult to see in your hair)
- Applying insect repellent with 10% DEET (remember to reapply every two hours; do not apply to young children’s hands or the faces of babies)
- Always check yourself and family members for ticks after outdoor activities (it takes 36 hours for the tick to transmit the bacterium)
- Use tweezers to remove ticks (grab tick from its mouth/head and pull gently (do not twist); be sure to completely remove all parts of the tick). This is the best device to remove ticks.
- Contact your healthcare provider if bitten (they may want to identify/report the species so keep the tick once you pull it off you).
Read more about ticks here (including where they’re located, how to identify them, DIY and natural prevention methods, and more).