Lyme Disease: ticks active in the fall

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Even though cooler weather is here, the activity of ticks and the possibility of Lyme Disease remains. Raking leaves and fall yard clean ups present opportunities for you to come in contact with ticks. Also, be aware of initial symptoms from a summer tick bite as they may appear up to 30 days later.

Lyme Disease is an infectious condition caused by the spirochete Borrelia Burgdorferi or B. Mayonii. The disease is transmitted by the bite of a black legged deer tick. Most humans are infected by nymphs, the tiny (less than 2mm) immature ticks that are very difficult to detect. They feed predominately in the spring and summer, however adult ticks can also transmit disease and they are active in cooler weather. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing. 

Lyme Disease is most prevalent in the north, with 96 percent of cases in Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic and North Central parts of the U.S. but it has been reported in all 50 states. Approximately 300,000 cases of Lyme Disease are diagnosed each year. Often, co-infections occur as the same ticks can carry and spread other viruses at the same time.

Signs and symptoms can appear from three to thirty days with fever, chills, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph glands. A rash appears in 70-80 percent of cases. It starts at the site of the bite and clears as it increases in size creating up to a 12” ring often referred to as the bull’s eye. It may be warm to the touch but is not itchy or painful and, if in a covered area of the body or back, it may not be detected. Later, symptoms can appear weeks to months after the bite and include headache and stiff neck, rashes, arthritis pain and swelling in large joints, heart palpitations, dizziness, nerve pain, brain fog, short term memory issues, depression and anxiety. As these symptoms are typical to other conditions, Lyme must be considered if any of these are present whether one is aware of a previous tick bite or not.

Preventing tick bites is the key in avoiding Lyme Disease. Avoid areas known to be tick havens; keep to paths to avoid tall grass, brush and leaf litter. Use tick repellant that contain permethrin, DEET and picardin. Some natural oils are also moderately effective, but tick repellant is advised. Wear light colored clothes, long sleeves and pants tucked into socks and boots. Check your clothing for ticks and run through a hot dryer for 10 mins to kill them. Showering within two hours serves as a tick check as the unattached ticks wash off, and reduces transmission rates. Do a full-body tick check daily. Pay special attention to the hair line, scalp, ears, armpits, between legs and back of knees.

Removing ticks needs to be done with a fine-tipped tweezer to grasp as close to the tick’s head as possible, pulling upwards with steady even pressure. Once removed, clean the area, the tweezers and your hands with rubbing alcohol or antibacterial soap and water.

Treatment follows a positive blood test for Lyme. Antibiotics, often doxycycline, are given for 10-21 days. In areas known to be tick infested, you may receive a single dose if a deer tick has been attached for greater than 36 hours and it is within 72 hours of removal, before any symptoms appear. You can also have a tick checked at a UConn lab to see if the tick is a carrier.  It is essential to have quick and timely treatment as Lyme Disease can be very serious.