It’s that time of year when we spend more time outdoors and the tick population is out in full force. We may think that ticks are an only issue for our pets, but they can pose a risk to humans, too. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.
Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks. Blood tests are usually conducted after symptoms appear to determine if someone has Lyme disease. Most cases can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.
Early Signs and Symptoms (3 to 30 days after a tick bite):
- Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes
- Erythema migrans (EM) rash:
- Occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected persons
- Begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3 to 30 days (average is about 7 days)
- Expands gradually over a period of days reaching up to 12 inches or more (30 cm) across
- May feel warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful
- Sometimes clears as it enlarges, resulting in a target or “bull’s-eye” appearance
- May appear on any area of the body
Later Signs and Symptoms (days to months after tick bite)
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Additional EM rashes on other areas of the body
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
- Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
- Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat (Lyme carditis)
- Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Nerve pain
- Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
- Problems with short-term memory
If you live in wooded areas or visit these areas, you should protect exposure to ticks by:
- Wearing protective clothing around the ankle
- Wearing white or light clothing as it’s easier to spot ticks
- Tucking in t-shirts into your pants
- Pulling socks up over the bottom of your pants
- Using an insect repellent
- Checking for ticks on your pets
- Applying pesticides to reduce the tick habitat
Tick Removal Lowers the Risk of Lyme Disease
If you’ve ever tried to pull a tick off of you, you know it’s not easy. The tick’s body breaks away and their heads get buried under your skin causing the tick to regurgitate its contents into your body. Carrying a tick removal kit is advised as they can be used to effectively remove ticks from body reducing the risk of disease transmission.
‘Do It Yourself’ tick kits should include an insect repellant, a pair of fine tweezers, an antiseptic and small vial.
Using the tweezers, remove the tick with the tips of the tweezers as close as possible to the skin around the ticks mouth parts. A gentle upward action is recommend by the Lyme Disease Foundation. By placing the tick in a vial with a blade of grass, the tick can be kept alive for testing.
The following chart by the CDC shows the typical course of treatment for Lyme disease:
Sources: CDC and NIH