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LYME DISEASE: A PATIENT'S GUIDE

Prevention

The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to avoid deer ticks and western black-legged ticks. Knowing the life cycle of the tick (see below) can be important in avoiding it.

The cycle of Lyme disease

Most cases of Lyme disease occur in the spring and summer months, when ticks in the nymph stage are feeding. Symptoms tend to appear spring through autumn, creating what some call a "Lyme season." (Adult female ticks feed in autumn and early winter months and can also carry the bacteria.)

A person is more likely to get the disease during the spring and summer because a lot of time is spent outside, often with large amounts of skin exposed.

Avoiding areas where deer ticks and western black-legged ticks live reduces the chance of infection. Deer ticks and western black-legged ticks live in wooded, brushy and grassy places, including lawns and gardens.

While outdoors, a few simple precautions can reduce your chance of being bitten:

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to minimize skin exposure to ticks.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks to form a barrier to tick attachment.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to help see ticks on your clothing.
  • Check for ticks, looking particularly for what may look like nothing more than a new freckle or speck of dirt.

Using tick and insect repellents containing DEET or permethrin helps to protect against Lyme disease. Follow label instructions carefully. Use aerosols in an open space to avoid inhalation. Use sparingly on children and avoid use on their faces and hands.

Lyme Disease in Pets

Household pets can get Lyme disease. Checking pets for ticks before letting them enter a home reduces this risk of infection for both pet and owner. Please note that the tick commonly found on pets, the American Dog tick, is much larger than the Deer tick. The American dog tick is not known to carry Lyme disease. If you suspect that your pet has Lyme disease, contact your veterinarian. There is no known case of a pet transmitting the disease directly to humans.

If You Are Bitten

Early removal of an attached tick is extremely important because it takes more than 24 hours for a tick to transmit the bacteria. To remove a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers.

Grasp the tick as close as possible to the skin and slowly pull it straight out. The mouth parts may stay attached, but do not be alarmed as these will not cause Lyme disease. After removal, apply antiseptic or alcohol to the bite area. Do not apply mineral oil, Vaseline, heat, or other agents to remove the tick. These practices do not remove ticks and may actually increase your chance of infection by causing the tick to excrete bacteria.

If you remove a tick as soon as you find it, it is very likely that the tick did not transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi to you because it was not attached long enough for transmission to occur. Your doctor may suggest watching the bite and waiting to see if any symptoms occur instead of beginning treatment immediately. If you begin to develop symptoms or a rash at the site of a tick bite, contact your doctor right away.

Other Tick-Carried Diseases

There are also several other diseases carried by ticks that appear similar to Lyme disease. Fortunately many of these diseases can also be treated with antibiotics. If you begin to feel sick following a bite, contact your doctor.

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