Protect Yourself and Your Family from Ticks and Lyme Disease
Summer is here and your family can't wait to burn off extra energy outdoors. But, before you go hiking in the Pinelands or playing in your favorite park, remember that deer ticks are everywhere. They transmit Lyme disease — and other serious tick-borne diseases — which are treatable if caught early.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, New Jersey is third in the country for reported tick-borne disease from 2004-2016. In that time, disease cases from ticks DOUBLED in the U.S.
How Lyme disease is transmitted
Lyme disease is the most common zoonotic (transmitted from animal to human) disease in America. It’s caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorderi, which is carried by the black-legged deer tick that's common in New Jersey and surrounding areas.
People often encounter deer ticks after spending time in heavily-wooded areas, but you don’t need to be a hiker to be bitten by one. Those with pets should be aware that a cat or dog can easily bring a tick into the house. This means you should be on alert even if you don’t spend much time outdoors.
Spraying your skin with a DEET-containing insect repellent, or spraying your clothing (and clothing only) with a permethrin-containing insect repellent, are options for keeping ticks at bay.
What to do if there’s a tick on you
If a tick is crawling on you outside and you brush it off, you don’t need to be worried about Lyme. The tick must be attached for at least 36 hours to spread the disease to you.
Check your body and clothes for ticks after spending time in a high-risk environment. If you find a tick attached to you, quick removal will ensure you never come into contact with the Lyme bacteria. But keep in mind, ticks are good at hiding. Check your scalp, back and in the folds of skin—especially the back of the knee, the underarm, and between the legs.
What are the early symptoms of Lyme disease?
- A “bulls-eye” rash
A bulls-eye rash is one of the most recognizable symptoms of Lyme. A few days after a tick bite, this rash will expand outward and may turn into a red outer ring with a clear area inside it. Looking for that pattern is important, because almost all people will have some degree of redness and hypersensitivity to a tick bite, as with any insect bite. It’s also important to note that this rash isn’t tender, which is unusual. If it looks like it should hurt and it doesn’t, that’s a cause for concern.
- A flu-like reaction
This can include fever, headache, neck stiffness and fatigue.
How Lyme disease is treated
Generally, Lyme disease is easily treated with 2-3 weeks of oral antibiotics. Also, a single dose of the oral antibiotic doxycycline given when someone COMES IN with an engorged deer tick still attached, but showing no other symptoms, is highly effective at preventing disease.
Beware of these other tick-related diseases
- Ehrlichiosis and anaplasma can cause a flu-like illness that may be mild or may cause symptoms of headache, chills, fever, rash and fatigue. These symptoms can develop up to 2 months after the tick bite. Much like Lyme disease, this is treatable with the oral antibiotic doxycycline but you should see your physician.
- Babesiosis is another tick-borne illness to think about during warmer months. You may develop symptoms 1-6 weeks after a tick bite including fatigue, fever, joint aches and abdominal pain. This is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics.
- Powassan virus is transmitted by the same tick that carries Lyme disease and can infect all age groups from the very young to the very old. The most common symptoms are fever and headache but people may also get muscle aches and a mild rash.Unfortunately, this virus can't be treated with antibiotics, and there's no vaccine available at this time. If you think you or a family member have been bitten by a tick and have the above symptoms that progress to changes in mental status, you definitely want to go to the nearest emergency room so you can be evaluated by a doctor.
If you have been bitten by a tick and have the above symptoms and risk factors, you will want to speak to your doctor. Call 888-847-8823 to schedule a consultation with a Virtua infectious disease doctor.