The symptoms of Lyme disease and how to avoid it.
With the weather warming up, it’s time to shake off the last traces of the coronavirus cabin fever quarantine and get outdoors. But watch out - warm weather also means it’s Lyme disease season.
Lyme disease is transmitted to people through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick. They live in tall grass, gardens, and wooded areas, and they feed on mice, chipmunks, birds, and, not surprisingly, deer. Because they’re attracted to carbon dioxide and need blood to survive, these vampire-like insects often zero in on humans.
According to the CDC, there were 33,666 reported cases of Lyme disease nationwide in 2018. However, the CDC admits that only 10% of all cases were actually reported. Additionally, a research study conducted by the Department of Health that same year found that 51% of the adult deer ticks collected carried the bacteria that causes Lyme disease – meaning that there’s a good chance a person who was bit could contract the disease.
A tick has to be present on the skin for at least 36 hours to transmit the infection. While this may seem like a long time to be on your skin, they’re so small that people who contract Lyme disease often have no memory of having been bitten.
“If you think you’ve been bitten, or you’ve found a tick and removed it, it is important to seek help right away,” says Dr. Qurat Mudassar, an Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease physician with White Plains Hospital Physician Associates. “Antibiotics are often used to treat Lyme disease. If you take antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease, you’re likely to recover fully within a few weeks.”
Know the Symptoms
Symptoms of early localized Lyme disease often begin three to 30 days after a tick bite. The symptoms of Lyme disease vary from person to person, but usually appear in three stages:
- A small bull’s-eye similar in size and appearance to a mosquito bite will often appear and disappear over the course of a few days. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and a sore throat may follow.
- In the second stage, the flu-like symptoms continue, but now can also include pain, weakness, or numbness in the arms and legs. You may also experience vision changes, heart palpitations, a rash, and Bell's palsy, a form of facial paralysis.
- If untreated, the final stage may occur weeks, months, even years after the bite. Symptoms may include arthritis, severe fatigue and headaches, vertigo, sleep disturbances, and mental confusion.
Tiredness, exhaustion, and lack of energy are the most frequent symptoms during all stages. If you’ve contracted Lyme disease you may find yourself needing a nap during the day, or sleeping longer than usual.
If you plan on spending time outdoors, there are methods you can follow to protect yourself from ticks:
- Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts if you know you’ll be in areas where ticks reside.
- If you have long hair, tie it back, especially when you’re gardening.
- Once back indoors, shower or bathe as soon as possible to wash off any ticks that may be on your skin.
- Always check your children, pets, and yourself for ticks.
There’s no immunity to Lyme disease if you’ve already had it. Although some people have built a tolerance to it, you can get it again if you’re not careful. Remember, if you do get Lyme disease time matters – the sooner you get treated, the sooner you can get back to enjoying life with friends and family.
Dr. Mudassar is board certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease. To make an appointment at her office at 56 Doyer Avenue in White Plains, call (914) 948-0500.