Lyme Disease Awareness Month: May 2024

May is Lyme disease awareness month. Lyme disease is the fastest-growing vector-borne illness in the United States affecting an estimated 620,000+ Americans annually. Due to the difficulty in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, over two million suffer from its debilitating later-stage symptoms. Global Lyme Alliance is celebrating this month by sharing their message “One Bite Is All It Takes” to remind people that one bite from a tick is all that it takes to get Lyme Disease.

What Causes Lyme & How Is It Spread?

Lyme disease is an infection caused by several strains of the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected tick. The ticks that spread Lyme are typically no larger than a sesame seed. Their small size and the tick’s numbing saliva may cause you not to feel the bite.

On the West Coast, the Western black-legged tick is responsible for spreading Lyme disease on the West Coast. On the East Coast and in several mid-western states, it is the Eastern blacklegged tick (deer tick) that spreads Lyme. According to Lyle Peterson from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 80 million Americans living in areas of highest risk for Lyme disease where these ticks are common.

Host animals also play a part in the spread of Lyme disease. On the East Coast, the white-footed mouse is the primary host. Birds, many small mammals, and whitetail deer can also harbor Lyme bacteria. These hosts provide the ticks with blood meals which allows them to live, reproduce, and infect people or pets.

Lyme in People

The symptoms of Lyme disease show up in stages, and vary for each case. See your health care provider if you have Lyme disease symptoms, an early diagnosis and proper treatment can improve outcomes. If you know you had a tick bite or might have been around ticks, watch for symptoms.

Early symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur 3-30 days after a tick bite. A bulls-eye rash is a common sign of Lyme disease, but it may not be present in up to 20% of cases. Other stage 1 symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, joint stiffness, muscle aches and pains, or swollen lymph nodes. Stage 2 symptoms often show up 3-10 weeks after a tick bite. Stage 2 symptoms include rashes on the body, neck stiffness, face muscle weakness, irregular heartbeats, body pain, numbness in the hands or feet, or vision loss. The most common condition of Stage 3 is arthritis in large joints, particularly the knees causing pain and swelling that may last for a long time. Stage 3 symptoms usually begin 2-12 months after a tick bite.

Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because symptoms are not consistent and may mimic other conditions. Diagnosis for Lyme disease must be made by a healthcare provider experienced in recognizing Lyme disease. Blood and lab tests are done to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions. Research is underway to develop and improve methods for diagnosing Lyme disease.

Your healthcare provider will tailor treatment based on your age, overall health, how sick you are, and your personal preference. Treatment will also be considered based on if you are bitten by a tick that tests positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme diseases, if you are pregnant, or if you live in a high-risk area. Lyme disease in the earliest stage is usually treated with antibiotics for 2-3 weeks.

Lyme in Dogs

Symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs include generalized pain, not eating, swollen joints, limping, lameness, and high fevers. Most dogs infected with Lyme disease take 2-5 months before they show symptoms. By this time, the disease may be widespread throughout the body.

There are a few blood tests that can be done on dogs for Lyme diagnosis confirmation. The first is a test to detect the presence of Lyme antibodies, but this test can be falsely negative if the dog is infected and has not formed antibodies yet. For this reason, it is recommended to test dogs at least 4 weeks after a tick bite. The antibody test is followed up with a QC6 test to assess the numerical antibody level as confirmation. General blood and urine tests are also often done to assess kidney function and look for loss of protein in the urine. The standard treatment for dogs sick from Lyme disease is a 30-day course of antibiotics.

Lyme Disease Prevention

By knowing about Lyme disease and how to prevent it, you can help keep everyone in your household safe, people and pets! Before gardening, camping, hiking, or just playing outdoors, make preventing tick bites part of your plans. Know where to expect ticks! Black-legged ticks (the ticks that cause Lyme disease) live in moist and humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas. You may get a tick on you during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through leaves and bushes. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation. Spray EPA-registered insect repellents containing permethrin on clothing, gear and shoes.

Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Take special care to check these parts of your body for ticks: underarms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, scalp and head, between the legs, around the waist. Check your clothing and pets for ticks because they may carry ticks into the house. You can put your clothes into a dryer for 10 minutes on high heat to kill any ticks.

Modify your landscaping to create “Tick-Safe Zones” in your yard. Keep patios, play areas, and playground equipment away from shrubs, bushes, and other vegetation. Regularly remove leaves, clear tall grasses and brush around your home, and place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to keep ticks away from recreational areas. Discourage deer, the main food source of adult ticks, from coming to your yard by removing plants that attract them and constructing barriers. Deer are the main food source of adult ticks.

To prevent Lyme in dogs, take preventive measures to reduce the chance of tick bites. Use reliable tick-preventive products that are recommended by your veterinarian. When possible, avoid tick-prone spots like tall grasses, marshes, and wooded areas. If hiking on trails with your dog, stick to cleared trails and avoid brushing against overhanging branches or shrubs. Examine your pet for ticks immediately after returning indoors. Perform daily “tick checks” of all pets and people in your home during spring through fall when ticks by active.

How to Remove a Tick

If you find an attached tick, remove it as soon as possible using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers. The longer a tick is attached, the more likely it is to transmit a disease.

  1. Use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you cannot remove the mouth easily with tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
  4. Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.

Tick Testing

You can send ticks you find attached to you or your pets in for testing. This will let you know if the tick is infected with any diseases it could have transmitted. Use the code “ohdeer” for $5 off tick testing through Tick Report.


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