If you live in Wisconsin, you know it’s tick season.
And with ticks comes the possibility of Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by the saliva of black-legged or deer ticks. Ticks often secrete anesthesia as they bite, so the bite is painless.
Since we know ticks transmit Lyme disease, it should be easy to stop, right?
Not really. Besides biting painlessly, deer ticks are small. Adults are the size of sesame seeds, while the younger nymphs that also carry Lyme disease are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Their size makes it challenging to find them.
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. But in Wisconsin, the threat is high. All tick bites should be suspect.
If you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it immediately.
The longer the tick is attached, the greater the risk of the bacteria being transmitted into your bloodstream.
Remove ticks slowly and carefully. Grab the head of the tick with a pair of tweezers. Avoid squeezing the body of the tick, which could force harmful bacteria into your bloodstream.
If you cannot remove the tick properly, contact your healthcare provider for help.
Early diagnosis is the best chance for successful treatment of Lyme disease.
One telltale sign of Lyme disease is a rash that starts with redness at the bite site and then develops an outer ring to resemble a bull’s eye.
Without this circular rash, Lyme disease diagnosis can be challenging. Sometimes the symptoms are obvious within three days; at other times, it may be more than a month before the symptoms appear. Each stage of the disease causes a different set of symptoms.
Three days to four weeks after a tick bite:
- An expanding circular rash
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever and chills
- Lack of energy
- Stiff neck
- Muscle and joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
One to four months
- A circular rash at the bite site
- Other rashes on your body
- Pain, weakness, and/or numbness in the arms, legs, or hands
- Facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy)
- Poor memory
- Conjunctivitis or pink eye
- Pain, redness, and/or swelling in one or more large joints
- Rapid and irregular heartbeats
Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause long-term problems with your skin, joints, nervous system, and heart.
These problems can surface weeks, months, or years after a tick bite:
- Recurring chronic Lyme arthritis
- Swelling, redness, and fluid buildup in the joints
- Numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and/or back
- Facial paralysis
- Memory loss
- Mood changes
- Sleep interruption
- Slurred speech
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
If you have been in the woods or in long grasses where ticks live and you develop a rash or arthritis-like joint pain, contact your provider.
He or she may order a Lyme titer, a blood test that checks for antibodies to the bacterial disease.
If your provider makes a Lyme disease diagnosis, the first course of treatment is antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.
If joint pain persists, patients may be prescribed:
- Physical therapy to strengthen and support the joints
- Steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling
- Arthroscopy to remove damaged tissue
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites.
To prevent tick bites, treat your shoes and clothing with Permethrin insect repellent a few days before you venture into the woods or fields. As ticks crawl on the treated material, they die.
Do not spray Permethrin directly on the skin. Permethrin can also be fatal for cats, so use it carefully and follow the instructions.
Use tick repellent containing up to 30 percent DEET or Picaridin to repel ticks. Read the directions before you spray the repellent on your skin.
If you go outside, stay on hiking trails. Avoid walking off the trail or in areas with tall grass.
After being outside, do a tick check and take a shower as soon as possible. This will help find and remove or dislodge any ticks that have not yet attached. Be sure to check under your arms, behind your knees, and in other skin folds where ticks like to hide.
Put your clothes in the dryer. Run the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill any ticks hiding in the fabric.
If you have pets accompanying you into the woods, make sure they are on tick-repellent medication or wear a tick collar. Ticks can catch a ride into your home on your pets. Check your pets for ticks after every outdoor outing.
If you experience Lyme disease symptoms, contact your health care provider or orthopedic specialist.
For prevention tips or more information about Lyme Disease, visit Lymedisease.org.