Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in Maine. Record high numbers of Lyme disease were reported in Maine during 2011. With this year’s mild winter, ticks may be active earlier so it is never too soon to start doing tick checks. Penobscot Valley Hospital would like to remind the community that May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
What’s important to remember about Lyme disease?
· Lyme disease is caused by bacteria which are spread through the bite of an infected deer tick.
· A frequent symptom of Lyme disease that sometimes appears early on is a rash. The most common appearance is a uniformly red expanding rash.
· Other symptoms often occur such as:
o joint pain
o muscle pain or a mildly stiff neck
· Last, but not least, Lyme disease is preventable. The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid contact with the ticks that carry it.
If you are working, playing, or relaxing in areas that may have ticks you should do the following:
· Wear light colored clothing (which make it easier to spot ticks) with long sleeve shirts and pants
· Create an extra "no tick" zone by tucking your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants
· Use insect repellent (with DEET) on your skin and apply permethrin (kills ticks on contact) to your clothes.
· Check your clothing and skin carefully after being outdoors and remove ticks promptly
· Wash the area of any possible tick bites thoroughly with soap and water, apply an antiseptic to the area of the bite
· Mark on a calendar the date that you were bitten, let your physician know, then watch yourself for signs of Lyme disease or any changes in your personal health every day for the next month
· Keep your lawn mowed, cut overgrown brush, and clear away leaf litter from your home
· Inspect pets daily and remove any ticks found
Local Lyme disease advocate Bea Szantyr, MD states, “The longer the tick is attached the greater the risk of transmission of infection. Although we often think of less than a 24-hour attachment as being safe, in fact, cases have been reported in attachments of four hours or less. Additionally, some other infectors that travel in the same ticks may be transmitted more rapidly. Prompt, proper removal is very important.”
If you have found a tick on your skin, don’t panic. Take caution to remove the tick properly. Using fine- tipped tweezers, you should grab the tick at its mouthparts and using firm steady pressure you should pull the tick straight out. Using a tick scoop is another proven method of removal. Thoroughly cleanse the bite area and your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol after the tick is out. Save the tick for identification.
Do not yank or squish the tick because it may have harmful bodily fluids. Also, do not use petroleum jelly, hot matches, nail polish remover or any other substance to remove the tick. Using those items could increase the risk of an infection.
Szantyr adds, “If you have a tick bite, let your healthcare provider know, as sometimes treatment makes sense at this point. If you and your provider decide to watch and wait, pay attention to any early symptoms of tick-borne diseases which may include fever, headache, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, or rash. See your provider if you develop one or more of these symptoms. If left untreated, infection may spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.”
According to the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Lyme disease can easily and effectively be treated with oral antibiotics if diagnosed in its early stages. For more information on Lyme disease or instructions on how to properly remove a tick, visit www.mainelyme.org.
Photo caption: This diagram from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrates proper tick removal using a set of fine-tipped tweezers. The mild winter in Maine may lead to an active tick season. Take care to prevent Lyme disease by conducting frequent tick checks and other suggestions included in this article.