MAY IS LYME DISEASE AWARENESS MONTH
Amy Movius, MD
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Human Lyme disease was first described in Connecticut in 1975; In 1987 it hit Maine incidence has been rising ever since. Middle-aged persons and school-age children are most often infected. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that usually infect animals, but can also infect people. Lyme disease spreads from animals to humans when a tick bites an infected animal, “picks up” the infection, and then delivers or “carries” the bacteria to a person it later bites. The most common symptom of Lyme disease is an expanding red rash around the bite site. It can occur from days to a month after the bite and is usually not painful.
May is the beginning of Lyme disease season and officially Lyme Disease Awareness Month. It is an excellent time to prepare how NOT to become infected with Lyme disease (and other tick borne infections too!) over the coming months. The absolute surest way to prevent Lyme disease is to have no risk of tick exposure. Since this is impossible for many people, preventing and promptly recognizing tick bites is a more practical approach. The Maine CDC recommends following the simple “No Ticks 4 ME" rules:
- Wear protective clothing
- Use insect repellent
- Perform daily tick checks
- Use caution in tick habitats
Clothing is our first line of defense. Wearing long sleeves and long pants in outdoor areas where ticks may be present is a good start. If the clothing is light colored, it will be easier to see ticks as well. Pants can be tucked into socks and even taped to prevent ticks from climbing up the inside of pant legs. After clothes are worn outdoors, washing in hot water and drying on high heat should eliminate any ticks you may have missed.
Insect repellents containing DEET or picaridin should be applied to the skin. Clothes can also be treated with permethrin, available at outdoors/camping stores, to repel ticks from attaching to them. Treating pets with tick repellents is also very important as they can give a Lyme carrying tick a free ride into your living room.
At the end of every day you have been outdoors, take a shower as soon as possible. You should do a tick “body check” looking for any critters who may have attached themselves despite your efforts. Ticks have to be attached for 24-48 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted to a person, so prompt removal is very protective. If you find a tick, you should carefully remove it by gently pulling it straight out with tweezers. Wash the area well and use a topical antiseptic afterwards. Use of petroleum jelly, nail polish and other home treatments are NOT recommended. Be on the lookout for any suspicious symptoms for the next month. Again removing ticks from pets promptly is also very important.
Tick habitats include wooded or bushy areas and locations with high grass or lots of leaf litter. Extra care and vigilance in these environments is warranted.
If a tick bite occurs, routine antibiotic use is NOT recommended; rather careful watching of the bite location is… for a month! Any rash that occurs at the site should be seen by a health provider, even if you otherwise feel fine, at which time antibiotics can be administered. Many people who receive no treatment for such a rash (because they felt fine) will develop further symptoms, sometimes months later, especially arthritis of large joints. A small number of infected people can develop even more serious symptoms and a few may develop a chronic condition, despite antibiotic treatment.
The Clinical Assessment, Treatment, and Prevention of Lyme Disease, Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis: Clinical Practice Guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2006; 43: (1 November)