Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is spread through the bite of one of several types of ticks. The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are infected with B. burgdorferi. In most cases in the US, a tick has to be attached for 24-36 hours for them to spread the bacteria to your blood.
There are 3 stages of Lyme disease. Stage I symptoms of early localized Lyme disease begin days or weeks after infection. They are similar to the flu and may include chills, fever, general ill feeling, headache, joint pain, muscle pain and stiff neck. There may be a “bull’s eye” rash, a flat or slightly raised red spot at the site of the tick bite as well. Symptoms may come and go but it is important to seek treatment as untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the brain, heart, and joints.
Stage 2 (early disseminated Lyme disease) may occur weeks to months after the tick bite and may include numbness or pain in nerve area, paralysis or muscle weakness in the face, heart problems, such as skipped heartbeats (palpitations), chest pain and shortness of breath.
Symptoms of late disseminated Lyme disease or Stage 3 can occur months or years after the infection. The most common symptoms are muscle and joint pain. Other symptoms include joint swelling, abnormal muscle movement, nerve damage, vision problems, pain, muscle weakness, speech problems, cognitive problems, numbness and tingling.
A blood test can be done to check for antibodies to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease or in areas where it is common; a doctor can identify Lyme disease by recognizing Stage I symptoms. If it is caught early enough, Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics. Without treatment, complications involving the joints, heart, and nervous system can occur. However, these symptoms and stages are still treatable and curable.
It is important to check yourself for ticks after outdoor activities such as gardening, hunting, hiking, walking through tall grass or having contact with a pet that has been outside. Ticks that carry Lyme disease are so small that they are very hard to see. After returning home, remove your clothes and thoroughly inspect all skin surface areas, including your scalp. Shower soon after coming indoors to wash off any unseen ticks.
Removing a tick should be done carefully by grasping the tick close to its head or mouth with tweezers. Do not use your bare fingers. Pull it straight out with a slow and steady motion. Avoid squeezing or crushing the tick. Be careful not to leave the head embedded in the skin. Clean the area thoroughly with soap and water. Also wash your hands thoroughly.
Do NOT try to burn the tick with a match or other hot object, twist the tick when pulling it out or try to kill, smother, or lubricate the tick with oil, alcohol, Vaseline, or similar material. These methods may cause the tick to salivate (drool) or regurgitate (puke) into the wound. This can cause infection or facilitate the spread of Lyme disease if the tick is infected. Anyone who has been bitten by a tick should monitoring the site of the bite and pay close attention for any symptoms for 30 days.
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