By Erin Dahlke, M.D., Family Medicine with Obstetrics
We talk a lot about prevention because it is one of the most important steps in staying healthy. In regard to Lyme disease, you can help prevent the disease by avoiding ticks altogether. It is not always easy when we have adventurous pets and children, and we want to spend time exploring the outdoors as well. Ticks are known to inhabit wooded and long-grass areas, so stay away from those areas or wear long pants and conduct a thorough full-body check afterward. Deer ticks are often found in the groin, armpits, behind the ears, or scalp. Remove the tick as soon as possible with a fine-tip tweezer and wash the site of the tick bite with mild soap and water. Monitor the area for any signs of infection. If you don’t know the species of the tick save it in a container to be identified later.
Ticks may carry diseases that cause flu-like symptoms and sometimes a rash or sore which may begin from 1 day to 3 weeks after the tick bite. It is also a good idea to make sure your tetanus shot is up-to-date. The bacteria that cause tetanus are commonly found in soil and can get into the body through any type of break in the skin, such as wounds, burns, or animal bites.
Lyme disease is one of these tick-borne diseases in Minnesota. A person gets Lyme disease when they are bitten by a blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick) that is infected with Lyme disease bacteria. Not all deer ticks are infected and must be attached at least 24-48 hours to transmit the disease. This is why personal body checks and prompt removal is key. The chance of getting Lyme disease increases if the tick is attached for a longer period of time.
After a tick bite, simply pay close attention to your body – from the inside out. If you have any unusual symptoms see your healthcare professional. Lyme disease can feel like the flu at first. Within 3-30 days look for a distinctive rash around the bite. It is dark at the site and keeps increasing in size; it sometimes has a “bull’s eye” appearance and is not typically painful or itchy. Not everyone with Lyme disease gets the rash; therefore watch for the other symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, muscle/joint pain, and fatigue. The difference between these symptoms and “the flu” is the tick bite. Making a doctor’s appointment is highly recommended before symptoms get worse.
Multiple days to weeks after the onset of the illness, in addition to a persistent headache, fever, muscle pain, and fatigue, one or more of these symptoms can occur: multiple rashes, paralysis on one side of the face, stiff neck, weakness / numbness / pain in the arms and legs, irregular heartbeat, and dizziness.
An antibiotics regimen over the course of a few weeks can help treat the disease. Some symptoms can last for several months. Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) is a disorder that causes severe symptoms if the infection was not detected during the early stages. Like so many illnesses, prevention and early detection is crucial when dealing with Lyme disease. If you have any questions about ticks or Lyme disease, please talk with your primary care provider.