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During hiking or camping trips, we are told to be on the lookout for ticks; it is very important to check for them afterwards and remove them when we see them. This is because ticks can carry and infect people with a fairly common, but often not discussed condition: Lyme disease.
Felissa Kreindler, MD, Pediatrics at NorthShore, explains what Lyme disease is, how to detect it and what we can do to prevent it.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by deer ticks that can often cause a rash, joint pain, weakness and flu-like symptoms.
How do you get it?
People who hike or spend time in heavily wooded or grassy environments are more likely to come in contact with deer ticks and the possibility of Lyme disease. The longer the tick is attached to the skin, the higher the chance for Lyme disease.
How do I know I have it?
Symptoms of Lyme disease often appear in stages. Early stages often start with a rash on the site of the tick bite. A red bump itself is normal, but if a rash appears anywhere from 3 to 30 days after, that is a symptom. The rash often does not itch or cause pain. It can look like a bull’s-eye or appear as a rash. Flu-like symptoms – fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache – may accompany the rash. A few weeks after the infection, some people develop heart problems such as irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, liver inflammation and severe fatigue.
When do I need to see my doctor?
If you notice any of these symptoms after removing a tick or being in a heavily wooded or grassy area, contact your primary care physician. Treatment is most effective when started right away.
How can I treat Lyme disease?
The goal of the treatment is to eliminate all traces of the infection. This can be done through antibiotics where the type of medication is dependent on age and whether a woman is breast-feeding.
How can I prevent Lyme disease?
The best way to prevent it is to avoid locations where deer ticks live when possible. If you are in a heavily wooded area or grassy area, cover your body with tall socks, long pants and shirts, and a hat and gloves. Use insect repellant on your skin and clothing to add an extra layer of protection. After your activity in a potential tick area, check yourself, your kids and your dog for any signs of ticks. Ticks like to hide in hard-to-reach spots such as behind the ears and knees. Be careful of pets and animals – as some patients may contract it by pets bringing ticks into the house – or by gardening in their back yards. Always check your pets and yourself after coming in the house for any signs of ticks.
When removing ticks, use tweezers to steadily pull them off and clean the area with soap and warm water. If you have had Lyme disease before, you can be reinfected, so always take the necessary precautions.
How often do you check for ticks after being outside?