How to Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease
The ticks responsible for spreading Lyme disease are tiny. It is easy to mistake a tick that has hooked onto your skin for a freckle or speck of dirt. How can you protect yourself against such a tiny enemy?
The ticks that spread Lyme disease usually make their home in wooded areas where deer and other animals that they normally feed on live. While Lyme disease has been reported in nearly every state, the greatest numbers of infected ticks are found in three areas of the country:
- The Northeast, from Virginia to Maine
- The north-central states, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota
- The West Coast, particularly northern California
Anyone who is working, hiking, or camping in tick-infested areas, particularly during late spring through early autumn, should take the following precautions:
- To keep ticks away from your skin, wear a hat, closed-toe shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants tucked into your socks.
- Spray insect repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET on clothing and exposed skin. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this repellent to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
- Stick to the center of the trail, and avoid wooded, brushy, and grassy areas.
- When you come inside, inspect your skin for small black dots that might be ticks. Look closely in hairy areas, such as the scalp and underarms. If you find a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick. Afterward, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Know the Symptoms
Getting bitten by a tick does not automatically mean you will get Lyme disease. That’s because only some ticks carry the bacteria that cause the disease. Quick removal of ticks further reduces your risk. A tick must be attached to a person’s skin for 24 to 48 hours to transmit the bacteria.
However, it’s wise to know the symptoms of Lyme disease. Early signs include:
- A circular red rash near the site of the bite that may grow to look like a bull’s-eye—it usually appears three days to a month after the bite
- Flu-like complaints, such as fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, joint aches, and fatigue
As the infection spreads, additional rashes may appear on other areas of the body. Other symptoms may also develop, including facial palsy, short-term memory loss, and arthritis attacks.
Anyone who experiences these symptoms should see a health care provider. Antibiotics are extremely effective in treating Lyme disease.
Resources and Research
Find more information here about ticks, Lyme disease, and ongoing research efforts from Western Connecticut Health Network into this disease.