Lyme Disease Q & A: Facts You Should Know Before You Take That Hike
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a “multisystem inflammatory disease” that starts by affecting the skin and then spreads to the joints, nervous system and possibly other organ systems. It is spread by bacteria that travel through the bloodstream and get inside tissues.
How Do You Get It?
There are many kinds of ticks and they don’t all carry Lyme disease. Only deer ticks carry the bacteria that cause it, and only about 20-30 percent of that tick population carries it. The disease is spread when a deer tick carrying the bacteria bites you.
What Are the Signs of Lyme Disease?
Since not every tick bite means you’ll get Lyme disease, you need to know the signs. For most people, the first telltale sign is the bull's-eye red mark that forms around the bite, but not everyone will have that reaction. Other signs get progressively worse as the bacteria makes its way through the body. Symptoms start mildly, with joint pain, chills, fever and fatigue. Then severe fatigue, aching neck, numbness and facial palsy can become present. Finally, if unchecked, the worst symptoms are severe headaches, swollen joints, cardiac abnormalities and even some mental impairment.
Is There a Cure?
When diagnosed early, Lyme disease is easily treated with antibiotics. In the later and more severe stages, the disease is still very treatable, but patient response to treatment can vary depending on how many systems have been affected. Symptoms can linger, but Lyme disease rarely causes any permanent damage.
What Do You Do if a Tick Bites You?
If you find a tick on you, don't panic, but you do need to remove it as soon as you can. Generally, experts believe that if a tick hasn’t become engorged from your blood, it hasn’t been on you long enough to transmit Lyme disease (if it’s even a carrier). You need to remove the tick with a pair of tweezers by grasping it by its head or mouth, not its body. Using a match or nail polish remover is not effective—it can even make things worse. The entire tick needs to be removed within about 48 hours of attachment.
Again, Lyme disease in its early stages is very treatable, but can also be very hard to spot. If you’ve been somewhere where you’ve had exposure to ticks, or you found a tick and you later notice a rash, feel unusually tired, achy or feverish, visit your doctor. A blood test can be taken, but those can sometimes be false in the early stage, so be clear about your exposure to the tick.