Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States. More than 600,000 cases have been reported since the disease was first discovered in 1982. The disease is spread by the bite of a deer tick. Usually the nymph, or juvenile tick is responsible for injecting a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) into the skin, but only after being attached for over 24 hours. The tick is usually the size of the period at the end of this sentence and can easily be mistaken for a freckle.
Southern Indiana is NOT a major area for infections. The Northeast (esp. Connecticut), upper Midwest (including Michigan, and Wisconsin), and northern California are considered “hot spots” for the disease. The disease is usually spread from May to August.
Diagnosis can be difficult. A “bulls eye” rash that occurs around the tick bite is a helpful sign, but is present only 50-75% of the time. Usually the sudden onset of a flu-like illness in the summer that includes headaches, nausea, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and a slight fever about 10 days after a tick bite should suggest Lyme disease. Blood tests can be helpful, but are not always immediately confirmatory. Treatment is usually successful with Amoxil or Doxycyline. If untreated, symptoms of joint swelling, chest pain, irregular heart beat, weakness of muscles (especially of the face), and problems with memory can develop. Long-term untreated Lyme disease may require injectable antibiotics.
To avoid tick bites when out in the woods or tall grass, wear light colored clothing so ticks will be easy to see. Tuck your long pants into your socks, and consider wearing a long sleeve shirt. Insect repellant with DEET will keep away mosquitoes and regular “dog” ticks, but Permethrin (e.g. Repel Permanone) sprayed on cloths the night before will keep deer ticks off for weeks. Always inspect yourself and your children after being outdoors.
If you find a tick embedded in your skin, use a tweezers and grasp the tick behind the head and firmly withdraw it. Consider using an antibacterial salve and observe the area for a few days. Many times a local allergic reaction may occur from the bite of any kind of tick or insect. Consider using 1% Hydrocortisone cream for these red and itching lesions.
*It is also important to note, as we are currently in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are still researching what happens when COVID-19 and Lyme Disease intersect. Lyme Disease has been considered a preexisting condition that could lead to a higher risk for COVID-19 complications. Continue to follow experts' advice on preventing tick bites, and take action by contacting your doctor after you have been biten by a tick.