Summer is in full swing and the Fourth of July brought out the festivities in everyone. Whether you spent the day hiking, fishing, boating, partying, or just hanging out on the couch, you should make sure to protect yourself from insect-carried diseases. Ok, so maybe the people on the couch don’t have to worry…
Everyone knows about mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry – West Nile virus, yellow fever, zika, and even malaria – and we all know to use bug spray and wear long loose clothing, but there’s one more critter you have to keep an eye out for: the tick. Ticks, although commonly labeled as insects, are actually a type of mite closer in form to a spider and they like to suck blood just like mosquitoes and thus can transmit diseases to humans and animals. The black legged tick and the deer tick can both carry Lyme disease.
A very specific type of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease. Ticks do not fly or jump so they “hunt” by latching on to clothing and skin as you brush by. This is why you should always wear high socks, long pants, and long sleeves when walking in any wooded areas. If you’re reading this from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, or Wisconsin then congratulations – you win the prize of having about 95% of all Lyme disease cases reported from your states. That doesn’t mean we’re in the clear my fellow Ohioans. Reforestation efforts over the past several decades have succeeded in increasing deer populations, which is the favorite taxi cab of black legged and deer ticks. Cases have been steadily on the rise in recent years.
Unfortunately it’s hard to say exactly how many cases of Lyme disease occur each year. Approximately 30,000 cases are reported to and confirmed by the CDC, but since only a fraction of data actually makes it back to the CDC, medical experts suggest the annual number of cases may be closer to 300,000. This makes it the most prevalent vectorborne (animal carried) disease in the United States.
Symptoms of Lyme disease occur in 70-80% of patients within 3 to 30 days after the initial bite and infection. The most common symptom is a rash, warm to the touch though not itchy, spreading from the bite outward and sometimes becoming a “bull’s eye” shape as it expands. This can happen on any part of the body since a tick bite may be anywhere. Other symptoms may show a more gradual onset, but can also be much more severe, including migraines, neck pain, arthritis with joint pain and swelling, heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat, nerve pain, shortness of breath, and even short-term memory loss.
Patients treated in the early stages of the disease will generally recover fully with a 2 to 4 week run of antibiotics. Patients with more progressed symptoms will also most likely benefit from antibiotics, but may have suffered long term damage before the disease can be eradicated. It is a common misconception that Lyme disease “lasts forever” and that one you have it, it never really goes away. This is false, but symptoms may persist for weeks or even months after the bacteria are all gone.
If you think you have a symptom of Lyme disease, consult a physician. A simple blood test is used to diagnose Lyme disease, but don’t be surprised if it comes back negative at first, your body can take up to two weeks to start producing antibodies to the bacteria. Your doctor will most likely ask you questions about your recent outdoor activities and do a visual examination of the rash and site of infection. Many times, these are sufficient for a positive diagnosis and treatment.
When you go outside this summer, make sure you are always wearing the proper clothing for your activity and don’t forget to use insect repellant!