In May 1997, a tick bit Victoria Draper of Jackson County, Michigan. Her parents immediately pulled the complete tick off her neck and called the family doctor who said there was nothing to worry about. After a few weeks, Victoria’s behavior began to change. The area where the tick was found was now surrounded by a light red rash and was not healing properly. Had it not been for a friend who was diagnosed with Lyme disease, the Draper family might not have understood what their daughter suffered from.
What causes Lyme disease?
According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, Lyme disease is an infection caused by a bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete) carried by deer ticks. An infected deer tick can transmit the spirochete to humans or animals it bites. Blacklegged ticks are responsible for transmitting Lyme disease bacteria to humans. Juvenile deer ticks — the ones most likely to transmit Lyme disease — are the size of a pinhead.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
Since the deer tick is so small, early symptoms of Lyme disease can be mild and easily overlooked, the American Lyme Disease Foundation reports. Once the tick buries its feeler in your skin and taps your bloodstream, it takes 36 hours or more before Lyme-causing bacteria move from the bug’s insides to yours.
The classic sign of Lyme disease is a circular, reddish, bull’s-eye rash that spreads outward from the tick bite, leaving the center clear. The site may appear one to two weeks after disease transmission, but may persist for up to three to five weeks, the American Lyme Disease Foundation reports. Symptoms include swelling of lymph glands near the tick bite, joint pains, chills, fever, and fatigue, recurring over several weeks. Not everyone who gets Lyme disease, though, develops this rash.
As the Lyme disease bacteria spreads, further symptoms begin to occur: stiff, aching neck, severe fatigue, numbness of extremities even facial paralysis. Late stage Lyme disease symptoms include painful arthritis, headaches, swelling of joints, cardiac abnormalities, as well as mental disorders, according to the American Lyme Disease Foundation.
If you suspect Lyme disease symptoms, see a doctor right away. Early treatment of Lyme disease (within the first few weeks after initial infection) is straightforward and almost always results in a full cure. Treatment begun after the first three weeks will also likely provide a cure, but the cure rate decreases the longer treatment is delayed. Antibiotics are typically prescribed.
Tips to prevent Lyme disease
So how do you protect yourself this summer? The best precaution against Lyme disease is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation. If you do garden, hike, or camp, there are a few precautions the American Lyme Disease Foundation recommends:
Check your children
“It cannot be stressed enough the importance of checking all your child’s body parts after they have been outdoors,” says Andrea Mathews, RN and president of A. Mathews and Associates, a Spring Hill, Tennessee health and safety consultant. “Be sure to check the areas where the socks meet the pants, around the waist, and the head, scalp and neck areas.”
These are all areas where clothing may not cover the skin if you become active. If you do find a tick, there is no need to panic. Not all ticks are infected, and studies of infected deer ticks have shown that they begin transmitting the bacteria an average of 36 to 48 hours after attachment.
Lyme disease advice for summer camp kids
For parents sending their kids off to summer camp, there are a number of over-the-counter insect repellents available. If you’re not comfortable using DEET, citronella and lemongrass are natural aromatic oils to use as an alternative.
Bug-Ban is a non-toxic bug repellent wristband containing citronella, lemongrass and geranium oils. All-Terrain Herbal Armor is a waterproof lotion and pump spray, with or without sunscreen, formulated with citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium oils (available in natural product stores or call (800) 2-INSECT). Finally, Avon’s Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard towelettes and Skin-So-Soft Moisturizing Suncare Plus SPF are other alternatives without DEET.
How to remove a tick
Here are some tips from the American Lyme Disease Foundation:
- Use a pair of pointed precision tweezers, grasp the tick by the head or mouthparts right where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body.
- Without jerking, pull firmly and directly outward. DO NOT twist the tick out or apply petroleum jelly, a hot match, or alcohol or any other irritant. These methods can even increase the chance of the tick transmitting the bacteria.
- Place the tick in a vial or jar of alcohol to kill it. Label the vial with the date, name, address, tick’s description (e.g. if engorged, color) and estimated time attached to skin.
- Clean the wound with a disinfectant.
- MARK your calendar. Monitor the wound for the appearance of a rash beginning three to 30 days after the bite. See your doctor if there is a change.