In recent years, the incidence of Lyme disease has become increasingly more common and widespread in the United States.
Lyme disease is passed to humans from deer ticks. If left untreated, it can lead to some very serious health problems.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease show up three to 30 days after the initial bite, including fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain, swollen lymph nodes or a skin rash called erythema migrans.
Erythema migrans is a red circular patch that appears at the site of the bite. The patch can grow bigger and vary in shape, depending on its location. The center of the rash may clear up as the rash spreads, causing a bulls-eye appearance.
According to Dr. (CDR) Gregory Martin, infectious disease service chief at National Naval Medical Center (NNMG), people sometime get only one of these symptoms. At other times, all the symptoms may appear.
Ticks have a two-year life cycle. The larvae transform into nymphs then to adults about the size of a mustard seed.
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, which is most commonly spread to humans in the nymph stage of a tick's life.
Adult ticks are usually spotted more quickly because of their larger size. Tick larvae are not thought to carry Lyme disease, according to Martin.
Ticks crawl around in tall grass, shrubs and wooded areas. They wait for an unsuspecting victim to walk by, then brush against and latch onto the victim.
Ticks feed on blood by inserting their mouth-parts (not their whole body) into the skin of a host animal, which is most likely a mouse, or a human, according to Martin.
Once the tick finds a host, it looks for a hairy area to beginning feeding. On humans they usually crawl to places such as the groin, armpits or the scalp.
"Ticks also like to latch onto skin around the waistband and other elastic areas' said Martin. "When they reach an area where they can't go any further, they will stop and start feeding.
"It takes at least 48 hours of feeding to be able to transmit the infection into the host," Martin continued "This could be good news for the unknowing human. It gives him time to find the tick and properly remove it."
But what happens if a person does not remove a tick before it transmits the Lyme disease?
Some people may have Lyme disease and not know it for months after the initial bite. They may have been misdiagnosed because most symptoms of Lyme disease mimic other illnesses.
Late signs of Lyme disease are arthritis, usually in large joints like the knees; nervous system abnormalities including numbness, pain and Bell's Palsy (facial paralysis); meningitis; or irregularities of the heart.
Lyme disease is sometimes difficult to diagnose. For instance, a blood test will sometimes show up negative for Lyme disease when someone is positive.
Laboratory tests for Lyme disease have not yet been nationally standardized. The Food and Drug Administration approved a Lyme disease vaccine several years ago, but it is not recommended by doctors for routine immunizations unless a person works in the woods daily. The side effects of the vaccine are reportedly more harmful than the disease itself, according to Martin.
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics under the supervision of a physician. Antibiotics are usually administered orally for 20 to 30 days, but may be given intravenously in more severe cases.
Patients treated in the early stages with antibiotics usually recover rapidly and completely.
Symptoms in some cases may continue or recur, making additional treatment necessary. Varying degrees of permanent damage to joints or the nervous system can develop in patients with late chronic Lyme disease.
There are several simple measures that can be used to prevent tick bites and the incidence of Lyme disease.
Wear long-sleeved shirts, tucked-in long pants and closed-toed shoes when moving through the woods or high grass, said Martin.
Campers and hikers should also walk on cleared trails where fewer ticks reside. Also, perform daily tick inspections after coming in from the outdoors.
Remove clothing, and wash and dry the clothes at a high temperature for more than 16 minutes. Ticks can't survive the constant heat.
Inspect your body carefully and remove attached ticks with tweezers instead of using bare hands to avoid leaving parts of the tick in the skin. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible, and pull straight back with a slow, steady force to avoid crushing the tick's body.
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