Well Being

Lyme Disease Is Now More Common Than HIV: Here’s How To Keep It At Bay

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ticks lyme disease
Lyme Disease, one of summertime’s biggest health risks, is on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports incidences of Lyme Disease surpassed those of HIV in 2009. This is sad news given that a few simple safety precautions can greatly reduce your risk for contracting this serious illness.

While the protocol for disease prevention is very much in our public health collective consciousness, it never hurts to take a refresher course. So here are the deets. (And don’t forget to grab some DEET!)

We live in a world where a creature the size of a breadcrumb has the potential to completely destroy your health. I apologize for being such a downer. So here’s the deal: Some deer ticks (also known as blacklegged ticks), become infected after feeding on a mammal that’s carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for the transmission of Lyme Disease. If one of those lucky buggers bites you the bacteria can end up in your system and make you sick.

If you spend lots of time in the great outdoors you should have these items on-hand:

  • Your eyes! The first step in prevention is thorough inspection. Check your legs, arms and shoulders. Ticks also like to hang out in hard to see places such as the groin, armpits and scalp.
  • Bug spray. The CDC recommends you select a bottle of smelly repellent that contains 20-30 percent DEET.
  • A pair of fine-tipped tweezers for proper tick removal.
  • Soap and water to clean the infected area and your hands after tick removal.
  • Rubbing alcohol is also useful to clean the bite—though not completely necessary.

Optional: A magnifying glass for the more advanced—and OCD—tick inspector.

If you find a tick there’s no reason to freak out but you should remove it right away. “Most ticks need to feed for hours before they can successfully transmit infections,” said Jorge Parada, the National Pest Management Association’s medical spokesperson. “If removed promptly, the risk of infection decreases significantly.”

The CDC has very clear instructions for safe and effective tick removal.

Dr. Michael Zimring, an internist at Mercy Medical Center and the director of the Center for Wilderness and Travel Medicine says typically if you remove a tick in less than 36 hours the likelihood of contracting Lyme Disease is fairly small. Longer than that and it’s probably best to see a doctor for a 200 mg shot of doxycycline, a common antibiotic, said Dr. Zimring, who is the coauthor of the book, Healthy Travel: Don’t Travel Without It! He added acute Lyme Disease is treated with a three-week course of doxycycline.

(If you’re prone to yeast infections, be sure to mention this to your doctor since a long course of antibiotics could lead to another very unpleasant health problem.)

Lyme Disease presents as flu-like symptoms, which include fever, headache and fatigue. In addition, a rash in the shape of a bull's eye, known as the erythema migrans, forms at the site of the tick bite.

Long term, if left untreated, Lyme Disease will cause neurological, cardiac and joint problems, that include heart arrhythmias, cognitive nerve disorders, facial nerve problems.

Photo: John Tann