Health alert: Is Lyme disease a real concern
Hanging out in the outdoors can expose us to any number of pests, from mosquitoes, to poison oak and ticks. Ticks, while small, can cause a surprising amount of trouble. Not only do they try to bury into your skin, but in doing so they put you at risk of catching a variety of diseases. One of the best known and most prevalent of the tick borne diseases is Lyme disease.
The disease is transmitted by deer ticks and is a bacterial infection that is most prevalent along the East Coast but is found all over the United States. It affects people of all ages. About 300,000 are given a Lyme disease diagnosis annually, but a real number is tricky to get as the disease is hard to diagnose.
So here’s what you need to know about Lyme disease and how it can affect you.
- Most people do not realize they were bitten. Anyone who has been bitten by a tick may find that surprising, but the truth is that Lyme disease is mostly spread by nymphal or baby ticks. Because they are so small, it can be hard to know that you were bitten at all. As a result, the tick can feed off of you for several days. A tick typically has to be attached for about 48 hours or more in order to transmit the bacteria into your bloodstream, so it is easy to do because they are so tiny.
- Lyme is often misdiagnosed. Because you may not even know you were bitten by a tick when you present with its symptoms your doctor may diagnose you with something else. Common misdiagnoses include fibromyalgia, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even multiple sclerosis. If it is misdiagnosed, you may be treated incorrectly for the wrong disease, not only limiting your ability to get real help but also potentially harming by giving you incorrect treatments.
- It is not limited to the East Coast. Lyme disease is often considered an East Coast disease, but in truth, it has been found on every continent around the world except Antarctica. It is found most often on the East Coast, but can also appear in the Midwest and even on the West Coast. That means you should be routinely applying tick precautions no matter where you are in the outdoors, just to be safe.
- Not all ticks carry Lyme. While Lyme disease is found with deer ticks, it does not mean all deer ticks have Lyme. Other types of ticks also may also carry the disease. If you have been bitten, you can track any symptoms or just be on the lookout, but there is a chance you have not been exposed at all.
- Getting fast treatment makes a difference. It is hard to get a good diagnosis for Lyme disease, but getting treatment sooner rather than later could save you from permanent damage to your heart, nervous system, skin, and joints. Standard treatment is a round of antibiotics to kill the bacteria, but when left untreated, the bacteria can do some serious damage.
- You can always be reinfected. Even after your symptoms have improved after a course of antibiotics, you are still at risk for getting Lyme disease again if you are bitten again. You would then have to receive another course of treatment to clear it up.
- You can prevent it. There are precautions you can take to help prevent you from getting Lyme disease. The first is to cover up in the woods, keeping the ticks away from your skin. You can also use insect repellent to deter them. Always check yourself, your children, your pets, and any other family member for ticks. Remember the tick is most damaging when left unseen for days, so checking regularly after outdoor play can keep the biting ticks away.
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