What You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

Five days have passed and my black fly bites have finally stopped itching.  I need to get outside and plant some flowers, but I’m procrastinating because the flies are out there waiting for me, and so are the deer ticks. Teeny creatures that barely tickle when they crawl across your skin, but which can cause a heap of trouble because they can carry the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease.

Borrelia burgdorferi, Lyme disease bacterium

Not all ticks are deer ticks and not all deer ticks transmit Lyme Disease. But you never know, so you have to be careful. Follow the same emergency preparedness tips I gave you for avoiding black flies (except you don’t have to wear a head net). Check yourself over carefully and make sure to look in any body folds, behind your ears and in your hair.

Deer ticks, in the top row, transmit Lyme Disease

From now until July, deer ticks are in the nymph stage and are only between 1/32″ and 1/16″ — wicked tiny. You can order a handy poster with actual-size pictures of deer and other ticks by contacting Mainely Ticks.

If you find any ticks on you, try not to freak out, but do remove them promptly. According to the Maine Medical Center Research Institute and the Maine CDC, ticks usually need to attach for 36 hours to transmit Lyme Disease.

How to remove a tick

  • Grasp the tick close to the skin with fine-tipped tweezers
  • Pull gently upward with steady, even pressure until the tick lets go
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water
  • Don’t use Vaseline, alcohol or nail polisher remover because they don’t work
  • Write down the date you found the tick just in case
  • Consult a physician if you removed an engorged tick or if you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing the tick

Stage 1 symptoms of Lyme disease (usually occur within a month)

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of energy
  • Achy joints or muscles
  • Rash that resembles a bulls eye (an estimated 85% will get a rash)

Photographer: James Gathany

Stage 2 symptoms of Lyme disease (one to four months)

  • Tiredness
  • Additional rashes
  • Pain, weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Paralysis of nerves in the face
  • Recurring headaches or fainting
  • Poor memory, inability to concentrate
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Occasional rapid heartbeats

Stage 3 symptoms of Lyme Disease (several months or years)

  • Joint swelling, especially the knees
  • Numbness and tingling in hands, feet or back
  • Severe fatigue
  • Neurologic changes
  • Chronic Lyme arthritis

Lyme disease is easily treated in the early stages with antibiotics. Antibiotics are also used to treat later stages of the disease. There used to be a vaccine available, but it was taken off the market in 2002, supposedly because there wasn’t enough demand.

In Maine, health officials keep track of cases of Lyme Disease and issue a yearly report.

Maine Lyme Disease Summary, 2010

  • 734 confirmed and probable cases
  • Symptoms of reported cases*
    • Characteristic expanding rash
    • Arthritis (joint swelling)
    • Neurological (Bells Palsy or other cranial neuritis)
      *Cases could report more than one symptom
  • Hospitalization occurred in 23 cases
  • Among patients with a reported date of symptom onset, 56% began experiencing symptoms during June, July, or August. Date of symptom onset was missing for 30% of cases.
  • The highest number of cases (64%) was among middle aged adults

I don’t want you to think I’m an alarmist — hey, I spared you the shock effect of an enlarged photo of a deer tick. I also don’t want you to think I’m a wuss who denies herself the pleasure of the beautiful Maine outdoors. My only goal is to give you some useful information and links to more if I didn’t give you enough. You are welcome!