Lyme disease is a common tick borne disease caused by the spirochete borellia burgdorferi (Bb) and transmitted by the deer tick. In Virginia, the incidence of Lyme disease has exploded to the point where recently the governor of Virginia named a Lyme Disease Task Force to address the rising incidence of the disease.
With better awareness of the symptoms of disease and the habitat of the deer tick we can take steps to reduce the risk of tick infection and prevent Lyme disease. The following list of tips is compiled from the National Capital Lyme Disease Association, EcoHealth, Inc., and The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
Lyme disease is transmitted by a tick bite and can be a debilitating disease if untreated. Often tick bites go undetected, or symptoms are mistaken for flu or other common illnesses. Symptoms can range from fevers, chills, headaches, fatigue, and rash in the early stages to joint pain, muscle pain, heart problems, memory loss, eye problems, and neurological symptoms in the later stages. Lyme can be difficult to diagnose but early treatment is important. Therefore, a doctor should always be consulted if a tick is found on the body (remove and save the tick) or if one has any flu-like or rash symptoms, especially in the spring or early summer when most cases are transmitted. However, ticks can bite and transmit Lyme disease and insect-borne illness any time the weather is mild, and less than 50% of those infected ever see a tick bite or bulls-eye rash. Early treatment with antibiotics may be started before blood tests can confirm Lyme disease or symptoms develop.
To reduce the risk of Lyme disease:
1. Stay away from tick infested are such as wooded areas, leaf piles, underbrush and the unmowed edges of yards, parks, playgrounds, golf courses, soccer fields etc. where field mice, and therefore ticks, are most likely to be hiding. Ticks feed on field mice or deer infected with borellia burgdorferi. Do not sit on woodpiles or logs. Walk in the middle of trails.
2. Remove yard waste, wood piles, old leaves, underbrush and plants that attract deer or mice. Keep brush and bushes away from house and edge of grass. Keep grass mowed.
3. Wear light colored clothing to see ticks more easily. Wear long sleeve shirts, long pants and socks and tuck pants into socks to avoid having ticks crawl up your pants.
4. Insect repellent that contains DEET may be effective as chemical repellent but it's use is controversial. Ask your doctor before using anything with DEET. If you choose to use it we suggest you spray it outside on clothing only and not on skin, and do not use on children.
5. Inspect pets as they can carry ticks into the house. Talk to the veterinarian about monthly flea and tick repellent. Keep pets off the furniture and bed.
6. CHECK YOURSELF and CHILDREN for ticks after being outside in possible tick infested areas. Deer ticks are tiny, about the size of a pinhead, and may be hard to see. The best thing to do is strip off clothing immediately upon entering the house and do a complete body check. Check the scalp also. Wash clothes or place in a sealed trash bag to launder later. Do not leave clothing on the floor.
If a tick is found, remove it properly.
Wipe the area with alcohol before removing. Use tweezers and grab the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight out. Do not use a match or irritate the rest of the tick’s body.
Save the tick in a container or plastic bag and call your doctor immediately. Ticks can be tested for Lyme disease and co-infections that they may carry.
Awareness of Lyme disease and prevention of tick bites is the first step in reducing the incidence of Lyme infection. More information on an integrative approach to Lyme disease and tick-borne disease can be found at National Integrated Health Associates website, http://www.nihadc.com/health-programs/lyme-disease.html