- The month of April conjures up thoughts of budding trees, daffodils, gentle breezes and mild sunny days. On a more serious note, it is also the beginning of Lyme disease season. On the East End, Lyme disease is bantered about in conversations frequently - and many of us have either had the condition, or know someone who is presently undergoing treatment. One thing is certain - the East End is considered a "hot zone" for Lyme disease.
A 'bulls-eye' rash is in indication of Lyme's Disease.
Simply put, Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted by deer ticks-or black-legged ticks, which feed on the blood of animals and humans. These pests are very small, often no bigger than a poppy seed, making them extremely hard to see. As a result, they often go undetected until they have been attached to the body for a period of time and are bloated with a blood meal.
The bacterium that causes Lyme disease is found in the gut of the tick. When the tick is disturbed or irritated after a blood meal, it will regurgitate, and, if that tick happens to be a carrier of Borrelia, the bacteria will enter your bloodstream. To become infected, a tick must have taken a blood meal, must be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, and be attached to your skin between 48 and 72 hours for the disease to be transmitted. Despite belief to the contrary, not all deer ticks carry Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, body aches, headaches, joint pain and the famous "bulls-eye" rash, also known as erythema migrans. It is important to note that not all Lyme patients will develop the rash. Late stage Lyme disease symptoms can include neurological deficits, facial paralysis or Bell's palsy, heart problems and advanced arthritis.
What is the best way to avoid Lyme disease? The answer is simple - limit your time in areas where ticks live. This includes wooded and bushy areas, high grass and places with leaf litter. Try to keep your yard clear of brush and leaf piles, and when venturing outside in heavily wooded areas, avoid trekking through thick underbrush. If hiking or biking on path and trails, stay in the middle of the path to avoid contact with peripheral foliage where ticks may lay in wait.
As unfashionable as it might sound, tucking the cuffs of pants into your socks is a way of preventing ticks from creeping up your bare legs. Wearing light-colored clothing will also make it easier to spot ticks crawling on you.
Applying an insect repellent with a concentration of DEET to your skin and clothing has shown to be effective for tick protection. However, check with your physician before using DEET on children. Permethrin is another option that can be sprayed on clothing and has been shown to kill ticks on contact.
Check yourself carefully for ticks after being outdoors in or near woody areas.
When returning from a day outside, check your body from head to toe for lurking ticks. This includes behind your ears, your scalp and hair, underarm and groin areas, buttocks and in between fingers and toes.
If you find a tick embedded in you - don't panic. Despite old wives' tales, do not slather the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish remover or lay a hot match against its body. This will only irritate the tick, making it more likely to regurgitate, and increasing the likelihood of Borrelia bacteria being transmitted into your bloodstream.
Instead, grasp the tick near its head with fine-nosed tweezers and slowly and steadily pull straight up. It is not advised to use a "corkscrew" method of pulling the tick out, as this again may irritate it and cause it to regurgitate. Once the tick is out, wash the area with an antiseptic and keep it clean.
If you've been bitten by a deer tick
and you think you are experiencing Lyme disease symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. He or she will perform an ELISA and Western Blot test which will determine the presence of antibodies to Borrelia.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, treatment may include a 14 to 21-day round of oral antibiotics. Severe cases may require intravenous antibiotics. At the present time, there is no FDA-approved Lyme disease vaccine for humans.
Being told you have Lyme disease is certainly upsetting, but early and proper treatment can limit the effect and severity of the illness. Because it is such a common affliction on the East End, many local doctors are highly skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition. Finding the right physician is as easy as logging onto
Don't let time "tick" away, get out there and enjoy a healthy and happy spring!