What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria transmitted to humans through blacklegged tick bites.

How is Lyme Disease transmitted?

A blacklegged tick can spread bacteria by biting a human, which can cause an infection. Lyme disease is most common in northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central states. The western blacklegged tick can spread the disease in western states. Ticks normally attach to harder-to-see areas of the body including the scalp or armpits. Oftentimes, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before it spreads the disease.

Nymph ticks are most likely to spread lyme disease. They are most active during the summer, and they are roughly the size of a poppy seed. Adult ticks can also spread lyme disease, but they are more likely to be discovered, because they are larger. Adults are more active during cooler months, and they are about the size of a sesame seed.

What are the symptoms of Lyme Disease?

Early signs (between 3 days and 3 months) include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Erythema migrans (EM) rash (a red, itchy rash at the site of a tick bite – may feel warm to the touch)

Later signs (days to months after bite) include:

  • Severe headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Arthritis/severe joint pain and swelling
  • Facial or Bell’s palsy
  • Irregular pain in muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of brain and/or spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling in hands and/or feet
  • Short-term memory problems

How is Lyme Disease diagnosed?

Most doctors will diagnose Lyme disease based on the symptoms of the patient and their history of possible exposure to blacklegged ticks. Blood tests can be useful for diagnosing Lyme disease if a patient is showing symptoms. However, Lyme disease can sometimes be mistaken for other diseases, so it is important to properly diagnose and treat accordingly.

How is Lyme Disease treated?

Most patients will recover fully with proper oral antibiotic treatment. In some cases, Lyme disease can be chronic (or post-treatment lyme disease syndrome, PTLDS), which requires further treatment.

What is Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) (Chronic Lyme Disease)?

In some cases, people still feel some of the symptoms of Lyme disease after they have completed their antibiotic treatment. Although it is rare, some people experience symptoms for as long as 6 months. Patients eventually will recover, but it can take months. It is important to check with your doctor that you have Lyme disease and not another illness. Track your symptoms, and maintain a healthy diet and sleep program. Talk to your doctor if you have had Lyme disease in the past and you still experience the symptoms.

How can I prevent tick bites?

On people:

  • Avoid wooded and grassy areas, and follow trails while hiking
  • Use repellents with 20%-30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing
  • Treat clothing with permethrin, which will last through multiple washes
  • Bathe as soon as possible after spending a day outdoors
  • Search for ticks using a mirror, especially in hard-to-see areas such as the armpits, bellybutton, and hair
  • Examine gear for ticks
  • Dry clothes on high heat to kill ticks

On pets:

  • Check pets for ticks after they’ve spent time outdoors
  • Remove ticks from pets immediately
  • Ask your vet to do a tick exam
  • Use tick preventatives on your pet

In your yard:

  • Mow the lawn frequently
  • Place 3 feet of wood chips between wooded areas and playgrounds or your yard
  • Stack wood neatly in a dry area
  • Remove old furniture or wood from your yard
  • Keep patio furniture and play areas in a sunny spot

Teach your Kids the Danger of Tick Bites

To keep kids safe outdoors, teach them how to avoid ticks, find ticks, and get rid of ticks. Be on the lookout for ticks after your kids play outside, especially if you live in an area where Lyme disease is common. Encourage your kids to use tick repellent before playing outdoors and stick to trails when playing on hiking trails.