Taking Care with Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial infection that most often targets the skin, joints, brain, and heart, although any part of the body can be affected.
Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria transmitted through tick bites. According to the CDC, most Lyme disease infections in the U.S. occur in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, from northeastern Virginia to Maine and in the north-central states, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Often, the first symptom is a flat, round, reddish rash at the sight of the bite that appears three to 30 days after the tick bite. The rash may have a pale center. It also may resemble a "bull's eye." The rash may get better after several days.
These are other possible symptoms at this stage:
Muscle and joint aches
Headache and stiff neck
Feelings of pain, weakness, or numbness
Heart problems, such as a slow heart rate
If untreated, the disease can cause symptoms months to years after the tick bite. These symptoms include pain and swelling of joints, trouble with memory and thinking, and skin problems like swelling and thinning.
Diagnosis and treatment
Call your doctor if you develop a rash or flulike illness after you’ve been bitten by a tick or could have been exposed to ticks.
Antibiotics usually cure the disease within two to six weeks. Antibiotics aren’t prescribed for every tick bite, however, because the actual risk of acquiring Lyme disease is low. In addition, people often recover without antibiotics.
If you find a tick
Using a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick body close to your skin. Pull in a steady upward motion until the tick comes out. Be careful not to squeeze or twist the tick body. Then apply an antiseptic to the bite area and wash your hands.
If you can’t remove all of the tick, see your doctor.
Follow these suggestions if you’re in a region where Lyme disease is common:
Stay out of wooded, bushy areas that have high grass and leaf litter in May, June, and July.
Wear long pants and long sleeves. Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants.
Examine your skin for ticks after returning from wooded areas or areas with high grass or brush.
Apply tick repellent containing DEET to your clothing. Concentrations of 10 to 30 percent DEET are safe for children older than 2 months. You can get more information on children and pesticides by calling the National Pesticide Information Center at 800-858-7378 or visiting the website.
Perform a daily tick check on yourself, your children, and your pets after being outdoors.
Taking these precautions and reporting any symptoms can help protect you and your family.
Online Medical Reviewers:
Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS
newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care.
Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.