- Lyme Disease is the most common insect-borne infection in the entire United States, and as such, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of how best to prevent the most damaging effects of this disease. Currently, it is estimated that 25 percent of cases in United States occur in New York State.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by deer ticks and western black-legged ticks. In general, most humans are infected by the immature ticks, called nymphs, which are less than 2mm in length. Because of their size and painless bite, it is common that Lyme Disease patients do not recall being bitten. Once a tick is attached to its host, it takes anywhere between 36-48 hours for the disease to be fully transmitted into the bloodstream. What makes a timely detection and immediate treatment so important is the fact that Lyme disease has two phases.
The first phase occurs within 1-2 weeks after the tick bite and presents the host with a rash, and a flu-like illness with symptoms including chills, fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain. A physician can diagnose the first phase of Lyme disease without a blood test if the patient exhibits a characteristic red rash (erythema migrans), and reports the possibility of tick exposure. Unfortunately, approximately one-fourth of patients never get a rash, which makes the disease more difficult to diagnose as its symptoms can be linked to a myriad of other diseases. If untreated, the second phase begins. The disease strengthens and begins to infect the central nervous system, potentially causing meningitis, Bell's palsy, or numbness and weakness in the limbs. The disease can also spread into the joints, causing chronic arthritis, and into the heart, causing an irregular heartbeat or dizziness. Other subtle symptoms can include memory loss, inattentiveness, mood swings, and a difficulty sleeping.
Tick detection is the best approach to avoid contracting Lyme Disease. Ticks are highly prevalent in wooded areas, and environments between lawns and woods. It is important to note that pets can carry ticks from these environments into households, so it is important to be aware of where your pets go. If you are active in potentially tick-infested environments pay attention to the following guidelines:
• Wear long pants and long sleeves, preferably lighter colors.
• Spray clothing and exposed skin with insect repellent that contains DEET.
• Be especially vigilant in tick-infested areas between the months of May-July.
• Perform daily tick checks, and if found, remove with tweezers in order to avoid crushing the body.
• Do not use petroleum jelly, nail polish or other products for removal.
It is critical to detect and treat the disease during phase one to avoid the more serious effects. Should you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately.
For more information on Lyme Disease go to www.cdc.gov/Lyme