Lyme disease is a serious infectious disease that can have lifelong consequences. Spread by two different regional ticks, the bacteria responsible for Lyme can cause flu-like symptoms in most people. Left untreated, Lyme disease can attack different tissues in the body, including the heart and nervous system, causing damage.
Most people know the basics about how to spot Lyme disease -- look for a “bullseye” rash in the area of the suspected tick bite and watch for fatigue, fever, chills, and other symptoms similar to the flu. But there are other important facts about Lyme disease you may not be aware of.
Knowing more about your risk and the potential for serious complications can help you prevent exposure to Lyme disease. Here at Firshein Center in Manhattan, New York, Dr. Richard Firshein and his team want to share some key information so you’re in the know about Lyme.
Facts about Lyme disease
- You can only be exposed to Lyme disease from the bite of a specific infected tick, so you can’t get it from just any tick bite. In the western United States, the disease is passed on by infected Western blacklegged ticks.
- Lyme disease is present on every continent in the world except for Antarctica. All 50 states have now reported Lyme disease. Utah was once considered a Lyme disease-free state, owed to the long, cold winters. But in recent years, the cases of confirmed Lyme disease have risen significantly in the Beehive State.
- Although a bullseye rash is the sure telltale sign of an impending infection, fewer than half of those bitten by an infected tick demonstrate this symptom.
- Lyme symptoms don’t always come up immediately. Some people don’t develop any symptoms for months, years, or even decades after the initial infected bite.
- Other than the rash, common symptoms of Lyme disease may include stiff neck, muscle pain, headaches, lightheadedness and fainting, jaw pain, swollen lymph nodes, gastrointestinal issues, vision problems, confusion, memory lapse, and swollen, painful joints, especially in the extremities such as knees and ankles.
- Left untreated, these symptoms can become chronic issues. While your symptoms can still be treated, the damage that’s already be done may not be reversible.
- Even with treatment and early intervention, there’s a chance that Lyme disease could become chronic in some individuals. Doctors are still unsure why this occurs.
- Because Lyme disease presents in so many ways, it’s easy to confuse it with other conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, arthritis, Bell's palsy, dementia, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although associated with the deer tick, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is actually more prevalent in mice. So make sure to clean up brush piles and areas that appeal to rodents like mice.
- In most household environments the Western blacklegged tick won’t survive unfed for more than 24 hours. But if it’s stuck to your warm, moist clothing in an area like a hamper or laundry basket, an unfed tick can live for up to 3 days.
- Western blacklegged ticks prefer the warm, moist areas of the body. Check for ticks on the backs of your knees, nape of your neck, base of your head, armpits, and groin area.
- When you’re outside, always cover up to prevent tick exposure. Spray down with anti-tick spray before going into the woods and grassy areas. Always check yourself all over when you return inside from being outdoors.
- The less engorged the tick, the smaller your chances of infection. So if you find a tick has started to embed itself in your skin, remove it right away.
Removing a tick
When you find a tick on your body, you may be so freaked out that you just want to rip it out as fast as possible. But don’t do that, because taking it out the wrong way can leave the tick’s mouth parts embedded in your skin.
First, use tweezers to grab the tick close to the skin, and pull it straight out with a steady motion. Then gently wash the skin around the tick bite with soap and water and pat dry.
If you think you’ve been exposed to Lyme disease, have a bullseye rash, or any of the other symptoms of Lyme disease, don’t wait. Reach out to our office immediately to schedule an appointment.