Lyme disease prevention. Nancy A. Shadick, MD, MPH, Director, Lyme Disease Prevention Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, describes how to prevent bites from ticks which transmit Lyme disease, how to remove ticks and how to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. It can cause symptoms and illness of the skin, heart, joints, or neurologic system so it’s important for it to be detected early and treated with antibiotics so that people do not get ill.
Lyme disease is primarily focused in the Northeast, the upper Midwest, and regions of the Pacific Northwest though you can contract it in other parts of the country. The most common seasons to develop Lyme disease are spring, summer, and fall.
Steps you can take to prevent getting bitten by a tick include avoiding areas such as the brush, tall grasses, or forests with lots of leaf litter, wearing long sleeves and long pants, spraying permethrin on your clothes or using insect repellents which contain DEET.
Doing a tick check promptly after exposure to potential tick areas is very important. Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed so you should first feel your arms, and legs, and other exposed areas to detect ticks.
The proper technique for removing a tick is to grasp the tick at the entry point with fine tooth tweezers and pull straight out. If the tick has been on your body for less than 24 hours, it is unlikely you will contract Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness since it takes a minimum of 24 hours of attachment for the tick to transmit the disease-causing bacteria.
Lyme disease is characterized by a red ring-like rash that it spreads. If you don’t develop a rash from Lyme disease, you can still develop meningitis or neuritis, such as Bell’s palsy (facial paralysis) or Lyme arthritis, which begins as migratory joint pain and joint swelling. Lyme disease can also cause cardiac abnormalities, most likely rhythm difficulties in the heart, such as heart block, or dizziness and palpitations, or a slow heart. Any of these symptoms of Lyme disease should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible so treatment can begin promptly. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics of several weeks duration by mouth or several weeks duration intravenously.
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