By Michael Doldan, DO
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an illness that can make you feel like you have the flu. It can also cause a rash or fever, as well as nerve, joint or heart problems.
People can get Lyme disease after being bitten by a tiny insect called a tick. When a certain type of tick bites you, it can pass the germ that causes Lyme disease from its body to yours; but a tick can infect you only if it stays attached for at least a day and a half.
The ticks that carry Lyme disease feed on deer and mice. Ticks are found in tall grass and on shrubs and can attach to animals and people walking by. Ticks cannot fly or jump.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Symptoms of Lyme disease can start days or weeks after a tick bite and include:
If a person is not treated, further symptoms can occur months to years after a tick bite. This is sometimes called “late” Lyme disease. Some people develop late Lyme disease without having any earlier symptoms. The most common symptom of late Lyme disease is pain and swelling of the joints, in usually one or both knees. Some people can have other symptoms, such as numbness, tingling or pain in the legs. They can also have skin problems, such as skin swelling or thinning, but this happens mostly in Europe.
Is there a test for Lyme disease?
Yes. Blood tests can show if you are infected with the germ that causes Lyme disease; but it takes time for the blood tests to turn positive. This means the test won’t work if you get it right after being bitten or when you have the early rash that goes with Lyme disease. Because of this, if you have a recent tick bite or the rash, you do not need a blood test for Lyme disease. If you have been ill from Lyme disease for more than a month, the test will work well.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Lyme disease is usually treated with antibiotics. There are a few different types. Treatment with antibiotics should help your symptoms go away. Sometimes, symptoms improve quickly. Other times, it can take weeks or months for symptoms to go away.
Can Lyme disease be prevented?
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid getting bitten by a tick. But if you were already bitten, your doctor might give you an antibiotic. In some situations, this can reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease.
The best approach is to try to avoid getting bitten by a tick using these tips:
What if I find a tick on my body?
If you find a tick on your body or on your child, use tweezers to grab it. Then pull it out slowly and gently. After that, wash the area with soap and water. If the head of the tick does break apart from the body, consult your health-care provider and do not try to dig it out on your own. Newer research has shown that digging out the head of a tick does more harm than good to the tissue. Once the tick head is separated from its body it can no longer transmit the parasite that is responsible for Lyme disease.
You do not need to keep the tick. But knowing what it looked like can help your health-care provider decide about your treatment. Try to record details such as:
You should see your health-care provider if you have a tick and you cannot get it off.
You should also call your health-care provider if you think you have had a tick attached for at least 36 hours (a day and a half). They can decide if you need to take a dose of an antibiotic to help prevent Lyme disease. Doctors only recommend antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease in some situations, and it depends on your age, where you live, what kind of tick bit you, and how long it was attached.
If you or your child was bitten by a deer tick, you should watch the area around the bite for a month to see if a rash appears.
If you know or think your child has been bitten by a tick, our urgent care providers are here for you to assess and provide treatment, as clinically indicated, to reduce their chances of contracting Lyme disease or other complications.
Find our urgent care locations and hours here.