What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease transmitted by infected ticks. It was first recognized in the United States in 1975 after a mysterious outbreak of arthritis near Old Lyme, Connecticut. Since then, reports of Lyme disease have increased dramatically, and the disease has become an important public health problem.
Deer ticks infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease have been found in Illinois. Areas in the United States where deer ticks are most frequently infected with Lyme disease are the northeastern United States (from Massachusetts to Maryland), northern California, and north central states, especially Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, Lyme disease has been reported in almost all states in the United States as well as in many countries throughout the world.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Signs and symptoms can vary greatly from one person to another. Symptoms also vary with the length of time a person has been infected. A ring-like red rash occurs in about 70 - 80 percent of cases and begins three days to 32 days after the bite of an infected tick. The red rash at the bite site is circular and grows larger over a few days or a few weeks. In the center, the rash usually clears and has been described as resembling a bull's-eye. Generally, the rash is not painful. Often this rash is accompanied by one or more nonspecific symptoms: fatigue, chills and fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and joint and muscle pain. An allergic reaction to tick saliva can often occur at the site of the tick bite. Such allergic reactions, which are not a sign of Lyme disease, usually occur within 72 hours after the tick bite, usually do not expand beyond 2 inches in diameter like the Lyme rash and disappear within a few days.
Some people are not diagnosed with Lyme disease in its initial stages because early symptoms are similar to those of more common diseases, such as a flu-like illness without a cough or mononucleosis, and many infected persons do not recall a tick bite. Day, weeks, months or years later other symptoms can develop if the disease is not diagnosed and treated. These include fever, severe headache and stiff neck, certain heart irregularities, temporary paralysis of facial muscles, pain with numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, loss of concentration or memory problems, and, most commonly, Lyme arthritis.
When should I seek a physician's care after a tick bite?
If you experience a rash or any unexplained illness accompanied by fever following a tick bite, you should consult your physician and explain that you were bitten by a tick.
Can Lyme disease be treated?
Yes. Treatment of Lyme disease consists of administration of the appropriate antibiotics. Oral antibiotics are usually used; however, intravenous antibiotics may be used if the disease has gone untreated or is difficult to control. The selection and use of an antibiotic varies depending on the patient's symptoms and whether he or she is treated early in the infection.
How do I avoid getting bitten by a tick?
The best way to protect yourself against Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses is to avoid tick bites. This includes avoiding tick-infested areas. However, if you live in or visit wooded areas or areas with tall grass and weeds, follow these precautions against Lyme disease and other tickborne diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tularemia:
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