In the medical community, a relatively new disease is earning itself the title of “The Great Imitator” due to its difficulty to diagnose and treat. This illness commonly causes symptoms that mimic other conditions such as the flu, Multiple Sclerosis, chronic fatigue, and Fibromyalgia. If left untreated it can lead to long-term symptoms that could last for months or even years. In the past few years, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has seen an explosive increase in the number of confirmed cases, and many experts agree that it could only get worse.
I’m talking about Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted through the bite of an infected black-legged tick (also known as a deer tick). So what exactly are the dangers associated with Lyme disease, and what can you do to help protect yourself?
Lyme Disease: A Ticking Time Bomb
When it comes to Lyme disease, timing is crucial, according to LymeDisease.org. If not correctly diagnosed early, Lyme disease could cause symptoms that linger for months or even years. The medical community is still working to understand this disease and its symptoms, which means a quick diagnosis could be tricky. The symptoms could be attributed to many other illnesses, and the tests are not always accurate. If diagnosed early, Lyme disease treatment consists of a few weeks of antibiotics. If not, it could develop into chronic Lyme (known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Symptoms, or PTLDS). The more aware you are of possible Lyme disease symptoms, the better chance you have of a timely and accurate diagnosis.
The Early Stages of Lyme Disease
According to the CDC, a tick must be attached to its host for 24-48 hours for Lyme disease to be transmitted. One of the earliest signs of Lyme disease is the trademark “bulls-eye” rash, which occurs on average a week after the bite happened, although it could take as long as 30 days to appear. It’s important to note that this rash is only present up to 70% of the time, and in some cases may be in a difficult to see location. It is possible that you never notice the tick or locate the site of the bite.
In the weeks following the bite, flu-like symptoms typically develop. These can include:
- Muscle aches
If you are exhibiting any of these symptoms and have been in an area where a tick bite may have occurred at any time within the past month, it is important to discuss the possibility of Lyme disease with your doctor.
Late Lyme Disease
According to the CDC, Lyme disease left untreated for 30 days develops into Late Lyme Disease, where symptoms persist and change over the course of months or years. The symptoms of this stage vary wildly and can affect many different parts of the body. They include, but are not limited to:
- Numbness in the arms, legs, hands or feet
- Severe headaches
- Extreme sensitivity and nerve pain
- Facial palsy (the loss of muscle control on one or both sides of the face)
- Brain disorders involving memory, sleep, and mood
- Swelling or arthritis in the joints
- Pain in the tendons, bones, muscles and joints
Even with treatment, this stage of Lyme disease can result in chronic symptoms that last for years.
Lyme Disease in Pets
Humans are not the only ones at risk of developing Lyme disease. The American Kennel Club (AKC) indicates, while it is relatively uncommon in cats, Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases in dogs (although only 5-10% exhibit symptoms). Both dogs and cats share many of the same symptoms:
- Lameness due to joint inflammation or “shifting leg lameness” (where symptoms go away and then come back with a different leg)
- Lack of appetite and energy
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Increased urination and thirst
To help lower your pet’s risk of Lyme disease, talk to your veterinarian about a tick preventative medication.
RELATED: When to Treat Your Yard For Ticks
Prevention: The Silver Lining
The harsh reality is that Lyme disease is a serious infection that could wreak havoc on someone’s life. But there is some good news. There are a few steps you can take to decrease your likelihood of infection drastically.
- Take precautions: Basic knowledge of ticks and a few protective measures when outdoors, can go a long way in preventing tick bites in the first place.
Often, you may find ticks in the woods and areas of high grass, but you don’t have to be hiking or camping to be at risk – some experts estimate two-thirds of tick bites occur during routine outdoor activities. Peak tick season is the summer between the months of May and September, and ticks are most active at dawn and dusk.
- Layers: While wearing long sleeves in the summer isn’t appealing, it will add a layer of protection and make it more difficult for a tick to latch onto your skin. You could also purchase clothing with built-in tick repellent. If you are spending an extended period outdoors, using a spray containing permethrin on your clothes and outdoor gear is recommended.
- Inspect ASAP: After coming in from outside, check yourself (and your pets) thoroughly for ticks. If at all possible, ensure this inspection takes place within 2 hours of having been outdoors. Common tick bite locations include the scalp, back of the neck, inner thighs, waistband, top of socks, and under the arm. A tick is tiny and can bite anywhere, so make sure you inspect yourself carefully.
- Careful removal: If you locate a tick, remove it with a pair of tweezers or a tick spoon. Be careful not to squeeze its body, and firmly but gently pull or scrape the tick off. Going slowly will help to ensure the head remains intact. Do not attempt to burn the tick off or smother it in salves! Not only could you burn yourself, but these approaches could cause the tick to release infected fluids before removal. If you have a secure place to store it, hang onto the tick in case symptoms develop. This will help identify the type of tick if treatment is needed. After removing the tick, apply antiseptic to the bite area.
- Know the Symptoms: Feeling Flu-ish in July? Before you decide to tough it out with some over-the-counter medicine, talk to your doctor about the possibility of Lyme disease.
The Modern Method
New England is one of the areas most at risk for Lyme disease, which is why at Modern we offer a specialized Mosquito & Tick treatment program. Our program consists of 5 monthly treatments between May and September and has proven to reduce both tick and mosquito populations effectively. Let us help you take back your yard – give us a call or get a FREE online quote today!