Lyme Disease: And You’re the Target
Copyright 2005 by Michael Brochstein
Please note that the author is not a medical professional. If you think you may have Lyme Disease then you should see your medical doctor immediately. The information contained in this article is not a substitute for seeking the attention of trained medical professionals. An Infectious Disease specialist would generally be the correct type of doctor to see if your primary care physician is not available or not familiar with Lyme Disease.
If you participate in outdoor activities then the threat of Lyme Disease should be something you take seriously. If recognized early enough, Lyme Disease can generally be treated successfully with antibiotics. If it is not diagnosed early then serious life long problems can result. This article will hopefully give you a better understanding of the disease. Much more information is available online (see below).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there were 21,373 reported cases of Lyme Disease in the United States in 2003. The three states with the highest reported number of cases of Lyme Disease that year were Pennsylvania (5,730), New York (5,399) and New Jersey (2,889). Montana was the only state not to report any cases of Lyme Disease that year (and Glacier National Park is a beautiful place to hike!).
Lyme Disease did not originate in Lyme, Connecticut as is commonly believed. It was first reported in Europe in the late 19th century and was diagnosed in Europe throughout the 20th century. The first reported case in the United States was in Wisconsin in 1970. It was an outbreak of the disease among a multiple of people in southwestern Connecticut that led to its getting its well known name in the mid 1970’s.
Lyme Disease is spread by bites from black legged ticks. Lyme Disease carrying ticks can be infectious from the day they are born and many people are infected by these small “nymph” ticks. Nymph ticks may be less than 2 millimeters wide (very very small!) and difficult to see with a naked eye. In general, ticks need to be “attached” to you for at least 24 hours before they transmit the disease to you.
As is commonly known, a bulls eye shaped rash that expands over a period of time is typical of the location of a tick bite that has transmitted the disease to you. This rash can appear between three days and one month after you are infected. Please note that not all people develop this characteristic rash after being infected. Other symptoms of early stage Lyme Disease can sometimes be confused with the symptoms of other disorders and may include headaches, fever, sore throat, swollen Lymph glands, a general achy feeling, a change in vision, severe fatigue, other rashes not at the bite site, facial palsy, migrating pains in joints or tendons, and/or tingling or numbness in extremities. Symptoms of Lyme Disease can appear up to years after the initial infection if the disease is not initially diagnosed and treated.
Failure to diagnose Lyme Disease can result in “disabling neurological disorders”, arthritis and/or numbness. Permanent damage to joints or the nervous system can result if the disease is not treated in a timely manner. It is important to seek professional medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect that you have the disease. Lyme Disease is typically treated with antibiotics. The course of treatment can vary and be up to six weeks in length. Lyme Disease that is not caught early can result in additional treatments.
One friend of mine has twice been infected with Lyme Disease probably as a result of hanging out in a backyard in a suburb of New York City. Another friend caught Lyme Disease after going on just two hikes (ever) in the greater NYC area. In all of these cases, the disease was diagnosed early and treated successfully.
One could move to Montana or never step foot into a garden or the woods to avoid Lyme Disease. Fortunately there does exist some conventional wisdom regarding the prevention of Lyme Disease. It is not foolproof but is a good start to prevention. The wearing of “protective” clothing which includes long pants and long sleeved shirts is a first step. The tucking of long pants into socks, using DEET based insect repellent (a potentially dangerous product if not used according to directions!), and doing a “tick check” of your entire body after every time you come in from the outdoors.
There are prescribed methods for removing a tick (also, try to save it if possible, dead or alive, for help in diagnosis later) if it has already bitten you (check online for details). Ticks typically will attach onto you as you brush by them while they are on plants or bushes in the woods and then crawl up your body for a while before biting you. It is also possible for one to come in contact with your hair and bite you on top of your head (I guess bald individuals have an advantage here in doing a tick check on their head!).
One vaccine (LYMErix) has been developed to prevent Lyme Disease. It was not found to be 100% effective in preventing Lyme Disease and was withdrawn from the market as it had become controversial because of the potential for serious negative side effects. Currently getting a vaccine for this disease is not an option to the best of my knowledge (and may not be advisable at the present time?).
One can easily panic and decide never to step foot again off concrete in fear of getting Lyme Disease. This, in my humble opinion, may be an over reaction. Most people enjoy the outdoors and never get Lyme Disease just as many people never get infected with Poison Ivy even though it is common in many areas. That having been said, doing a careful tick check on your entire body after coming in from the outdoors is very important.
For More Information: There are many websites which contain photographs of typical rashes that result from the initial bite of Lyme Disease carrying ticks. Websites that author found useful include www.cdc.gov, www.lyme.org, www.aldf.com and of course, Google. Information for this article was taken from these and other websites.
WARNING/DISCLAIMER: Outdoor activities can be dangerous and the information furnished on this website may contain errors!
Last revision: January 4, 2006
Copyright © 2008 Michael Brochstein. All rights reserved.