The history of Lyme disease can be traced to rural Connecticut. In 1975, a cluster of children and adults residing in Lyme, Connecticut developed atypical arthritic symptoms. Within the next two years, the first 51 cases of Lyme arthritis were recorded. More importantly, the transmission of the disease was linked to the Ixodes scapularis (black-legged) tick. Today, about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC in the US every year. Some estimates place the ‘actual cases’ to be as high as 300,000, making Lyme disease the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. In this article, we’re going to explore what causes Lyme disease and how to prevent yourself from it.
What causes Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious caused by the Borrelia bacterium. In the United States, Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii may cause it, while Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii are the main causes of Lyme disease in Europe and Asia.
While these bacteria naturally reside in birds, deer, squirrels, mice, and other small animals, ticks become infected after they feed on infected animals. Since ticks are as small as a pinhead, they’re very difficult to spot.
Once an infected tick bites you, the bacteria permeate through the skin until it reaches the bloodstream. For transmission of the Lyme disease to be successful, the deer tick has to be attached to your skin for up over 36 hours.
Since ticks spend up to two hours on a host’s body before attaching themselves, quickly removing tick reduces the risk of infection. However, if you locate a swollen tick attached to your body, it’s a strong indication it has fed on your blood for long. If it’s an infected tick, there’s a greater chance of infection.
Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not live on their host. Instead, they live close to their host so that they can attach themselves whenever they want to feed and detach themselves once done. The following are some of the common risk factors:
Staying for too long in wooded and grassy areas
Ticks are commonly found in wooded and grassy areas because of its humid and moist environment. Therefore, if you live in these kinds of places and you spend a long time outdoors, there’s an increased risk. So, activities like hunting, camping, and hiking are risk factors.
Exposing your skin
Ticks cannot fly or jump. Instead, they rub off your body as you wander past tall weeds and grasses. Having your bare flesh exposed in a tick-infested area significantly increases the risk of infection.
Prolonged attachment of ticks
The longer the tick stays attached, the higher the risk of transmission. If you’re able to spot and remove the tick from your body in less than 36 hours, it’s unlikely that you contract Lyme disease.
Lyme disease generally occurs in three stages which include:
Stage 1: Early Localized Infection
At this stage, the infection is still localized and hasn’t spread throughout the body. After being bitten by an infected tick, after about one to two weeks, a bull’s eye rash begins to appear at the site of this bite. However, in a few instances, it might appear elsewhere. This rash is formally called Erythema migrans(EM) and about 80% of Lyme infection cases experience it. It’s usually not painful or itchy.
Other symptoms that may arise at this stage include:
Fever, sore throat, fatigue, headaches, chills, enlarged lymph nodes, vision changes.
Stage 2: Early Disseminated Infection
This stage begins several weeks or months after the tick bite. The infection begins to spread to other areas of the body, explaining why rash might appear in other areas than the bite spot. Also, there’s a general sense of uneasiness in the patient. Common symptoms include:
1) Disruption in heart rhythm
2) Neurological conditions like numbness, cranial nerve palsy, and meningitis.
3) Multiple erythema migrans.
Stage 3: Late Disseminated Lyme Disease
If treatment hasn’t been received, the condition devolves into stage 3. Stage 3 can begin years after a tick bite. Common symptoms include:
1) Numbness in arms and legs; hands and feet.
2) Arthritis of multiple joints
3) Brain disorders like short-term memory loss, mental fogginess, and sleep disturbance.
It is crucial to note that these boundaries aren’t clear-cut. The symptoms you experience depends on several factors like your health history, and can widely vary or even overlap.
Preventing Lyme Disease is as easy as keeping ticks off of your body. That means staying clear of tick-infested areas, especially wooded areas or bushy areas with long grass. Here are some major things to keep in mind to help with that.
Cover your body when going outdoors
When moving in bushy or wooded areas, ensure that you wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants tucked in your socks, shoes, a hat, and gloves. Always stay along the trail and keep your dog on a leash so it doesn’t wander through low bushes and long grass.
Make your yard unattractive to ticks.
Ensure that you keep underbrush to a minimum. Mow your lawn regularly. Store woodpiles in sunny areas to discourage tick-carrying rodents.
Apply Insect Repellents
Using insect repellent to your skin will help keep ticks off. Once applied, you’d be protected for a couple of hours. DO NOT apply repellents on your children’s face and hands.
The oil of lemon eucalyptus is also a good repellent but it isn’t suitable for children under the age of three.
Always be on alert anytime you’re in a tick-infested area. Since ticks are so tiny, spotting them can be challenging. That’s when you come back indoors, take a shower within the next hour. Within this time, the tick wouldn’t have attached itself to your body, so showering can help remove unattached ticks.
What To Do If You Find A Tick Attached To You Skin.
Remove It with Tweezers
If you find a tick on your body, put tweezers near the head of the rick and gently pull it out. Sometimes, only part of the tick gets detached. That’s why you have to check to ensure that all parts, including the head, have been removed. Thereafter, you can flush the tick down the toilet or drown it in alcohol.
After removing the tick, cleanse the area with alcohol or mild soap and water. Then thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
Seek Medical Attention
If you suspect that the tick has stayed on your body for long, or you begin to develop a rash or other symptoms, get medical attention. At the early stages, common antibiotics like doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime, are sufficient to stop it from spreading.
Remember that the key is to act promptly to avoid serious complications! Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information. We look forward to helping you!