May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month

By Bonnie Morley

Spring has finally arrived and for most of us this means more time outdoors. It is also a good reminder to pay close attention to the risks associated with Lyme disease. Lyme disease is caused by the bite of an infected deer tick and can have serious complications if it is not identified and treated early.

The deer tick, common in the eastern United States, is the only tick in our area which transmits Lyme disease. Ticks are not insects but Arachnids, eight-legged relatives of spiders. Ticks spread disease to other animals when they imbed into the host’s skin and suck its blood as part of their reproductive cycle.

The most characteristic sign of early stage Lyme disease is a large, reddish rash, often called a bulls-eye rash, about two inches in diameter, which appears and expands around or near the site of the tick bite. Sometimes, multiple rash sites appear.

The rash usually develops between three and thirty days after the tick bite, often expanding over time and lasting for several weeks. It does not normally itch or feel painful. In 20 to 40 percent of Lyme disease cases, no rash will be present.

Other early symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, headache, stiff neck, muscle aches and joint pain. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, consult a health care provider immediately.

Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stage of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Early treatment of the infection can prevent later complications, which may include nerve, joint and heart problems.

What can you do to prevent Lyme disease?

· The best defense is to prevent tick bites. Avoid areas where ticks live, such as tall grass, brush, bushes, and leaf piles.

· If you do go into areas where ticks live, take special precautions to prevent tick bites. Wear light-colored clothing for easy tick discovery, and tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants. After every two or three hours of outdoor activity, check for ticks on clothing and skin. Brush off any ticks on clothing before they attach themselves to you.

· Check yourself, children and pets for ticks after leaving areas where they live. Perform a full-body exam for ticks at the end of the day.

· Remove attached ticks promptly with pointed tweezers. If removal of a tick occurs within 48 hours, the risk of acquiring Lyme disease is minimal.

· Consider the use of insect repellents. Follow label directions carefully, and do not allow children to apply insect repellents themselves.

Dogs are also susceptible to tick-borne disease. Remember to check your outdoor pets daily for ticks. Remove ticks as close to the skin as possible to avoid leaving the head imbedded. Your veterinarian may have more recommendations regarding prevention of Lyme disease for dogs, including collars, dips or vaccinations.

Western U.P. District Health Department, and its Superior Home Health and Hospice division, serve Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, with offices in Hancock, L’Anse, Ontonagon and Bessemer. For more information on local public health programs including H1N1 influenza prevention, go to www.westernuphealth.org.

Bonnie Morley is a health educator at Western U.P. District Health Department in Hancock.