6 Steps to Protect You and Your Family from Lyme Disease

Family playing in the park

People living in Pennsylvania and most of the Northeast are at increased risk of contracting Lyme disease from the blacklegged or deer tick. May through July typically bring an increase in the number of cases. Learn the symptoms of Lyme disease and steps you can take to keep you and your family safe.

Southeastern PA + Spring = Lyme Disease Alert

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, there is risk for the spread of Lyme disease in every county in Pennsylvania. In recent years, Pennsylvania has led the nation in the number of cases—approximately 4,000 each year. The highest incidence of the disease is reported in the southeastern part of the state, which includes Lancaster County.

What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?

To get Lyme disease, you must be bitten by a blacklegged tick infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Symptoms of Lyme disease typically appear 7 to 14 days after being infected and are similar to the flu -- chills, fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joints aches. What distinguishes the infection is a red rash that looks like a bull’s eye.

Up to one-third of people infected, however, do not get this characteristic rash, and many don’t notice it if they do. In addition, the connection between flu-like symptoms and a tick bite may not be top-of-mind. Blacklegged ticks are the size of poppy seeds and can be hard to see.

Treatment is Effective When Started Early

When Lyme disease is detected early, it can be very successfully treated with two to four weeks of antibiotics. If untreated, Lyme disease can result in serious complications affecting the joints, nervous system, and heart.

Preventing Lyme Disease

There is no vaccine to protect against Lyme disease, but there are relatively easy steps you can take to avoid developing the disease:

  • Wear light-colored long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and socks when in wooded areas with high grass where ticks like to live. Tuck pants legs into socks or boots; and shirts into pants.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Wear insect repellent that contains 20-30% DEET on clothing and exposed skin (not face) when outdoors. Apply sparingly on exposed skin.
  • Do a full body tick check after spending time outdoors. Check your children carefully, including around the ears, under the arms, inside the belly button, and scalp.
  • Shower soon after being outdoors to wash off ticks that haven’t attached to your skin.
  • Call your doctor if you develop a fever, rash or muscle or joint pain.

How to Remove a Tick

There’s no need to panic if you do find at tick attached to your or your child’s skin. Prompt and proper removal of the tick helps prevent possible transmission of Lyme disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you take these 4 steps:

  1. Grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible with fine-tipped tweezers.
  2. Pull upward with even pressure. Don't twist the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers.
  3. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  4. Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.

Enjoy the Outdoors with Caution

Ticks don’t usually transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease until they’ve been attached to your skin for at least 36 hours. By taking action in a timely manner, or better yet, preventing tick bites altogether, you can enjoy your favorite outdoor activities despite the presence of blacklegged ticks throughout Pennsylvania.

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Deborah K. Riley, MD

Deborah Riley, MD, is an infectious diseases specialist with LG Health Physicians Infectious Diseases.
Education: Medical School—The Ohio State University College of Medicine; Residency—The Ohio State University Wexler Medical Center; Fellowship—University of Utah School of Medicine.

Call: 717-544-3517

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.

 

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