Dr. Dollinger: Ticks and Lyme Disease

In recent years, the increase in number and spread of deer ticks has been all too noticeable, and this summer is no different. In fact, deer ticks have been appearing in places we generally think to be tick-free, like public parks, residential backyards, and at higher altitudes. As a result, we need to increase our awareness of how to protect ourselves from deer ticks and Lyme disease.

Lyme disease was named after the town of Lyme, CT, when a number of cases were discovered in the late 1970’s. Since then, some progress has been made in terms of identifying the direct causes and ways to prevent Lyme disease.

In general, ticks tend to live in grassy areas. Since ticks usually always climb upward, the best way to protect yourself is to wear long pants that are tucked into your socks and a long sleeved shirt that is tucked into your pants. Special insect repellent may also be helpful, especially if you know you will be in a high-risk area. When you come back indoors, be careful to check yourself for bites, and if you find a tick embedded in your skin, carefully remove it using these steps.

In terms of diagnosing Lyme disease, often a tell-tale bullseye rash will appear around the tick bite. However, not everyone reacts the same, and it is possible to have Lyme disease without any rash at all. In these cases, fever, joint pain, or flu-like symptoms develop. If detected early enough, doctors can use x-rays to look for specific swelling and can look at your blood work to see if you have a high white blood cell count. There is a definitive test, but, unfortunately, it takes up to 4 weeks to get the results.

If, however, you have the target rash and immediately seek treatment, since Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, you will be given antibiotics. Doxycycline is typically first choice, but alternatives exist in the case of young children and pregnant women. The treatment may last up to a month, and usually reduces your risk of Lyme disease.

The danger is when you don’t treat Lyme disease soon enough. If left untreated (for example, the person doesn’t know they were bitten and didn’t develop a rash), the disease then spreads throughout the body and becomes a great imitator of other diseases. It can appear as arthritis, heart problems, nervous system problems, or simply chronic fatigue. This is why it is so hard to diagnose it when it reaches the chronic stage, with critical and often debilitating effects.

So, be careful when you have a picnic or go on a camping trip or take a hike in the woods. If you are vigilant and catch things early, you may save yourself a lot of grief. The last thing you want is for something to spoil your Fourth of July vacation! Click here for more information.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Beth Dollinger, click here to find her contact information listed in our provider directory.

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