Monday, May 30, 2011

Prevent Lyme Disease

When we lived in Wisconsin, it was a daily ritual to perform "tick inspections" on each other and on our kids. Ticks were simply a way of life there, and some would end up crawling up into the scalp area and hiding in the hair. But the inspections had to cover every inch of the body, because ticks are opportunistic and will settle down for a meal just about anywhere.

It wasn't necessary to hike through the woods or across a grassy field to become tick bait. One morning, I got up, took a shower, put on clean clothes, and hopped on my bike to ride the 6 miles to work. My feet never touched the ground from the moment I left the house until I arrived at the office. But when I got there, I felt something crawling up my neck. You guessed it — a tick.

The point is, ticks can hide in your carpet, in your clothes, or just about anywhere you come in contact with Mother Earth. Granted, some parts of the country are more prone to ticks than other locations. But you can find them in all 50 states. And one of the problems with ticks is that they carry disease — Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease are the two most common.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that normally lives in mice, squirrels and other small animals. Ticks pick up the disease from those animals and transfer it to humans. Lyme disease cases usually peak during the spring and summer months. That's when the ticks are active and when people are outside more often.

Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are:

  • A round, red rash that spreads around the site of the bite
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Sore muscles and joints
  • Fever
Treatment includes the use of oral antibiotics, prescribed by a doctor. So if you suspect that you have Lyme disease, the first thing to do is schedule an appointment with your doctor. According the the National Institutes of Health, most patients can be cured within a few weeks of taking the medication.

If the disease goes untreated, serious health problems can ensue, including:

  • Chronic joint inflammation (sometimes called Lyme arthritis)
  • Neurological problems such as facial palsy and neuropathy
  • Memory loss
  • Heart rhythm irregularities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in mood or sleep habits
To prevent problems with ticks:

  • Avoid walking through bushy areas and tall grasses
  • Use insect repellent that contains 20-to 30-percent DEET
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants. Tuck pants cuffs into your boots or socks, and spray repellent around the boot tops.
  • Light colored clothing allows you to spot ticks more easily when they are crawling on the fabric.
  • Perform tick inspections daily. Check the whole body, from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. 
  • If you find a tick, remove it as quickly as possible. Use fine-pointed tweezers to grab the tick as close to the mouth parts as possible, where the jaws attach to your skin. Be careful to not squeeze the tick in any manner. Do not try to "back the tick out" by using heat — that only encourages the tick to release the disease into the bite area. If you can't remove the tick yourself, call your doctor. 
The good news is that ticks don't usually spread Lyme disease until they have been attached for at least 36 hours, so if you discover the tick early on, you can probably avoid getting sick.

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