Health Tips & Articles

Lyme Disease

by Beth A. Markens, FNP

With the onset of summer, medical professional see an increase in the number of people with tick bites. This often leads to concerns about Lyme disease. Most of us living in New England know at least one person who has had Lyme disease, and we often hear horror stories about symptoms lasting for months to years.

WHAT IS LYME:

Lyme disease is an infection caused by a type of bacteria that lives in deer ticks, which are the size of a sesame seed.  Symptoms of Lyme disease can start weeks or months after a tick bite. These can include flu-like symptoms, pain in the muscles and joints, fatigue, and a “bullseye” rash. The rash may not appear at the same place where the tick bite happened.

If you have any of these symptoms and are concerned, please call the office.

PREVENTION:

There are steps you can take to decrease your likelihood of getting bit by a tick. The first is to stay out of tall grass and heavily wooded areas if possible. Many of us live near woods, however, or like to hike. Here are a few things you can do when you are out and about:

  • Wear long pants and long sleeved shirts. Consider tucking your pants into your socks or hiking boots.
  • Use bug spray containing DEET on those who are over 2 years old. Be careful when using this at the same time as sunscreen as it can make the sunscreen less effective.  Some people experience side effects from DEET.
  • Treat clothing with permethrin, a concentrated tick repellant which works even after a few washings.
  • Make sure your pets are on a flea and tick prevention medication.
  • Avoid having pets sleep in bed with you.

Many people ask about a shot to prevent Lyme. This is available for our furry loved ones (dogs and cats), but there is not one for humans.

There are also steps to take once you’re back inside:

  • Check your body for ticks. Tick especially like the armpits, groin, and behind the knees, but can be found anywhere on your body.
  • Take a shower to rinse off any ticks that haven’t bitten yet
  • Throw your clothing in the dryer on high heat

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU FIND A TICK:

If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. There are a bunch of cool tools for this that are available at sporting goods stores or online, but tweezers work just fine. To remove the tick, grab it as close to its head as you can and pull straight up. Try not to twist the tick as it’s likely to remove the body but not the head. Clean the area off with soap and water. Sometimes, the head stays stuck. While this can be scary and disgusting, the head will eventually work its way out and an attached tick head does not increase the likelihood of getting Lyme disease.

If the tick has been on you for a few days, remove it as soon as possible. Once you have removed it, you may call the office to schedule an appointment, ideally within 72 hours (3 days).  Watch the area to see if it becomes red, hot, or hurts to touch as these can be signs of a skin infection.

If the tick has been on you for less than 24 hours, the likelihood of getting Lyme is very small!  If the tick was attached for longer, you may benefit from a big dose of an antibiotic called doxycycline to prevent Lyme disease; this is called prophylaxis.

There are some occasions when we do not use doxycycline, including an allergy to the medication, pregnancy, breast feeding, and young age.  Prophylaxis with doxycycline is specifically not recommended for children younger than eight years old because doxycycline can affect the development of adult teeth.  Other medications have not been shown to work for prophylaxis.

We have a lot of patients who bring in their ticks for us to test. While there is a lab test we can run on such tick, the results of this test don’t change the way we treat you, and the cost of the test is often not covered by insurance.

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