The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has declared the month of May as Lyme Disease Awareness Month.
What Is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a tickborne disease and is the most commonly reported vectorborne illness (that is, a disease transmitted to humans by ticks, mosquitoes or fleas) in the United States, with nearly 30,000 confirmed cases reported in 2009. Between 1992 and 2009, the reported annual number of Lyme disease cases more than tripled, with children most at risk for the disease. Children are more at risk because they spend more time playing outdoors and in high grass or leaves, where the ticks that spread Lyme disease are found.
How Do You Get Lyme Disease?
The Lyme disease bacterium is spread through the bite of infected ticks. The blacklegged tick (or deer tick) spreads the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States, and the western blacklegged tick spreads the disease on the Pacific Coast. Ticks can attach to any part of the human body but are often found in hard-to-see areas such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36-48 hours or more before the Lyme disease bacterium can be transmitted.
Most people are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and are difficult to see. They feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease bacteria, but they are much larger and may be more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. Adult Ixodes ticks are most active during the cooler months of the year.
The blacklegged tick is most active during May through July. In 2009, about 95% of reported cases of Lyme disease were from (in descending order) Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maine, and Virginia.
A Lyme disease vaccine was once available but is no longer available. The vaccine manufacturer discontinued production in 2002, citing insufficient consumer demand. Protection provided by the vaccine diminishes over time. Therefore, if you received the Lyme disease vaccine before 2002, you are probably no longer protected against Lyme disease.
Can Dogs Get Lyme Disease?
Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and tickborne diseases. Vaccines are not available for all the tickborne diseases that dogs can get, and they don’t keep the dogs from bringing ticks into your home. For these reasons, it’s important to use a tick preventive product on your dog. A pesticide product that kills ticks is known as an acaricide. Acaricides that can be used on dogs include dusts, impregnated collars, sprays, or topical treatments. Some acaricides kill the tick on contact. Others may be absorbed into the bloodstream of a dog and kill ticks that attach and feed.
Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Signs of tickborne disease may not appear for 7-21 days or longer after a tick bite, so watch your dog closely for changes in behavior or appetite if you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a tick.
How Can You Avoid Getting Lyme Disease?
The CDC has issued recommendations to reduce the possibility of contracting Lyme disease. These recommendation are as follows:
1. Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking;
2. Use repellent that contains 20% or more DEET on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours. Parents should apply repellent to children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends products with up to 30 percent DEET for children. Always follow product instructions;
3. Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin;
4. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you;
5. Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.
What Are The Symptoms Of Lyme Disease?
If you are bitten by a Lyme disease-infected tick, you may develop a red, expanding rash called erythema migrans (EM). EM occurs in approximately 70-80% of infected persons and begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3-30 days (average is about 7 days). The rash gradually expands over a period of several days, and can reach up to 12 inches across. Parts of the rash may clear as it enlarges, resulting in a “bull’s-eye” appearance. The rash usually feels warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful. EM lesions may appear on any area of the body.
If left untreated, the infection may spread from the site of the bite to other parts of the body, producing an array of specific symptoms that may come and go, including additional EM lesions in other areas of the body, facial or Bell’s palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face), severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord), pain and swelling in the large joints (such as knees), shooting pains that may interfere with sleep, and heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat. Many of these symptoms will resolve over a period of weeks to months, even without treatment. However, lack of treatment can result in additional complications (approximately 60% of patients with untreated infection may begin to have intermittent bouts of arthritis, with severe joint pain and swelling. Large joints are most often affected, particularly the knees. Arthritis caused by Lyme disease manifests differently than other causes of arthritis and must be distinguished from arthralgias (pain, but not swelling, in joints)). Up to 5% of untreated patients may develop chronic neurological complaints months to years after infection. These include shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and problems with short-term memory.
Approximately 10-20% of patients with Lyme disease have symptoms that last months to years after treatment with antibiotics. These symptoms can include muscle and joint pains, cognitive defects, sleep disturbance, or fatigue. The cause of these symptoms is not known, but there is some evidence that it is caused by an autoimmune response, in which a person’s immune system continues to respond, doing damage to the body’s tissues, even after the infection has been cleared. Studies have shown that continuing antibiotic therapy is not helpful and can be harmful.
Anyone who develops a fever or a rash after being bitten by a tick or spending time in tick-infested areas should seek prompt medical care. Most patients with Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks’ of antibiotics, especially if treated early.
If your Lyme disease was not timely diagnosed and treated, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. Our website can put you in contact with medical malpractice lawyers in your local area who may be able to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim for you. You may also reach us toll free 800-295-3959.