How to Reduce You and Your Family's Risk of Lyme Disease
It is that time of year where we want to soak up every hour outside. Although fresh air and outdoor activities are fun and generally good for us, they also come with an increased risk of Lyme Disease. Per the CDC, individuals from Maine down to Virginia, as well as those in Minnesota and Wisconsin have the highest incidence of Lyme Disease. In 2018, the states with the most cases of Lyme Disease were Connecticut, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Ticks thrive in wooded and brushy habitats, as well as in tall, grassy areas, and in areas with a large deer population.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and transferred to humans from infected deer ticks, also called black legged ticks. For Lyme disease to be transferred, the tick must be attached to a person for 24 hours. Most cases occur in the summertime, but the disease can be contracted year round. Symptoms can start anywhere from three to thirty days after initial exposure. Initial symptoms are usually a rash around the bite mark that spreads outwardly, somewhat resembling a bullseye. Other symptoms include stiff neck, headache, fever, sore and aching muscles and joints, fatigue and swollen glands. If Lyme disease is left untreated, more severe symptoms can occur including arthritis, meningitis, bell’s palsy, and weakness or pain in the lower and upper extremities.
Antibiotics are used to treat early stages of Lyme disease. Treatment can last from 10 to 21 days. If left untreated, complications can occur and treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms. There are several precautions people should take when going outside to wooden areas to decrease the risk of exposure to ticks:
Use bug spray with DEET, Picaridin or permethrin. Note that permethrin is not to be used on skin, but to be sprayed on clothes, tents or shoes to deter ticks. Evidence also suggests oil of lemon eucalyptus is an effective tick repellent and can be applied to the skin.
Wear long sleeves, pants and high socks to limit exposed skin during hikes or when walking in wooden and grassy areas.
Stay in the center of a clear path and avoid walking on the edge of the path where the ticks are most likely to be.
Have your yard sprayed with tick repellent and frequently cut grass and remove brush.
Consider these additional steps after your outdoor activity:
Check your clothing for ticks. If you find a tick on your clothes you can throw clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes.
Take a shower and double check your skin and scalp for ticks.
If you have a tick on your skin, use a tick remover to pull out the tick. Try not to twist or turn as that may break the tick and leave part of it in your skin.
Clean the area after removal with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
You can get rid of the tick by putting it in a sealed container with alcohol or flushing it down the toilet. If you are concerned the tick may have bitten you, save it in a sealed plastic bag for testing.
Avoid squeezing the tick with your fingers because you could be exposed by disease that way as well.
Bottom line: Consider your risk of exposure when you or your loved ones are spending time outdoors. Take precautions before and after outdoor time so you can continue to enjoy the summer weather tick-free!
Written by Alicia Couture, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern