So here we are in late spring/early summer and guess what? We now have something else to worry about apart from the coronavirus! Yes, it’s tick season. Just the time of year the pesky creatures get busy.
As a doctor, I know being able to get out every day for exercise has been a welcome relief and a top priority for our general health. But let’s not compound the situation with a deluge of Lyme disease. What can you do to reduce your risk? As for all medical conditions, prevention is always better than cure. Read on and see what you need to know to stay safe.
Lyme disease is an infection in humans caused by a specific cluster of bacteria known as Borrelia burgdorferi. These bacteria get into the body when you are bitten by an infected deer tick. The tick becomes infected when it bites, for example, a bird, mouse, or deer which is carrying the bacteria. It then passes these bacteria into your bloodstream through the infected saliva.
If you are not feeling well, remember that Lyme disease has been called “the great imitator” because so often, the symptoms can mimic other diseases. You’ll want to remember that if you’ve been outdoors and near a tick-infested area, you may have been exposed.
The “bullseye rash” (erythema migrans) is characteristic of the condition, but 70% of people cannot remember ever having this. Most people present with a variety of other symptoms.
The most common symptoms, which occur within days or months of the tick bite, are listed below:
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Fevers, chills, swollen lymph glands
- Additional erythema migrans rashes on other parts of the body
- Facial palsy (face drop on one or both sides of the face)
- Arthritis—severe joint pain and swelling especially affecting the knees and other large joints
- Fluctuating pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Experiencing heart palpitations, or irregular heartbeat
- Feeling dizzy or short of breath
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- Nerve pain—neuralgia
- Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet, among other symptoms
You must cover your skin when you walk outside, in the garden or the countryside. This is especially true if you are outside for long periods such as camping, hiking, gardening or hunting. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked in at the ankles.
Ticks mostly attach on the legs, or to your socks and shoes. If you wear lighter colored clothes, you can spot them more easily. Ticks tend to migrate towards warm areas such as behind the knees, the groin or the scalp.
The CDC recommends you use 0.5% permethrin-treated walking gear. Alternatively, you can purchase 0.5% permethrin and treat your clothing and footwear yourself.
Wash your clothes within an hour or two of getting home, and shower as soon as you can. It takes time for the tick to sink in its teeth, so you have an opportunity to dislodge them. They can survive hot water temperatures. However, drying at high heat for at least 10 minutes can help destroy them.
“Conduct a full body check when coming from potentially tick-infested areas, even your backyard,” urges the CDC. “Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check you and your children for ticks after coming indoors.”
Ticks look like poppy seeds. When engorged with blood, they look like little raisins. It’s vital to remove a tick correctly. Just remember the worst thing you can do is squeeze the tick contents into the bloodstream.
So, get a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick near to the skin surface and pull it off with a swift upward movement. Try not to twist as you do this as you don’t want to leave any mouth-parts behind. If you do, try to pluck these out separately. Wash the area with warm water or an alcohol wipe/gel.
If you’ve removed the tick from a pet, flush the tick down the toilet. If you removed it from yourself or another person, put it in a sealed plastic bag and take it to show your doctor.
You can buy tick removers on the internet, but a pair of tweezers does the job just as well.
Don’t just think of ticks when you walk in the woods. As the CDC said, ticks can be found in your backyard, in piles of leaves and long grass. Keep your grass cut short, the weeds under control and remove piles of garden debris/litter. Some experts believe you can remove 70% of ticks by doing this.
The areas with the highest prevalence of Lyme disease are Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts and Vermont and it can be found all around the northeastern and upper mid-western United States, but cases have been reported in Texas and Florida and many other states.
You are strongly advised to use insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These contain, for example, DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. Always take care to follow the product instructions. Products containing OLE or PMD are not suitable for children under 3 years old.
Then apply insect repellent properly. Do this before you leave home. Spray some on your hands, then apply it to the rest of the body taking care to make sure it’s in the skin creases, behind the knees, the elbows, in the finger webs and behind the ears. This should do the job for around 90 minutes. Then reapply.
Always check your pet for ticks. Although more common in dogs, cats can get ticks too. Check your pet behind the ears, the eyes, around the tail and under the legs. If you find ticks, make sure you remove them properly. They should be removed within 24 hours.
Some medical insurance companies are not obliged to cover treatment for chronic Lyme disease, which is not currently acknowledged by the CDC. Treatment for this can be costly and extend over a considerable time period. As the tick season is upon us, do revisit your policy and discuss with your insurer to make sure you have the cover you need.
And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.