With each passing summer,
Lyme disease (named after a town in Conn.) has become an increasing
cause of concern. So far, more than 13,000 cases have been reported
in the U.S., with about 5,000 last year alone. The actual number
of cases may be much higher.
Fortunately, this tickborne
disease is treatable and curable during its initial stages. Early
treatment is crucial; reducing the likelihood of long term complications.
The INFECTION is caused
by a corkswrew-shaped bacterium known as a spirochete (Borrelia
burgdorferi). It is transmitted primarily via certain species
of deer ticks, these are smaller than the common dog tick. A deer
tick before it becomes engorged with blood, looks like a mole
or blood blister. While the flat, eight-legged adults are less
than one tenth of an inch long, immature ticks (called nymphs)
are about the size of a pinhead, and the larvae are nearly invisible.
The male is black, and the female is dark red and black. When
filled with blood the tick becomes gray and increases in size
three- to fivefold.
Fortunately, not all
ticks are deer ticks and even if you are bitten by a deer tick,
it may not be infected. Currently, in the West (primarily in Pacific
coast from just north of San Francisco into Washington - but moving
Southward) only about 1 to 2% of deer ticks may harbor the bacteria.
Finally, even if a tick is infected, it takes time to transfer
the bacteria to you (up to 12-24 hrs. or longer).
The peak period for
Lyme disease is the summer (when the nymphs are active), but symptoms
may appear months later. Unfortunately, no single symptom appears
in all cases, and there's no predictable time frame or sequence
of symptoms; making Lyme disease hard to diagnose. Still, three
general phases have been identified:
PHASE ONE. Most often
within 30 days of being bitten by an infected tick, a small red
bump may appear at the site of the bite surrounded by a rash that
gradually grows for several weeks and then fades. (Note, if the
rash develops within a few hours of the bite, it may merely be
a reaction to the bite itself, not the bacteria.) The rash may
have a firm center area, feel warm to the touch, and disappear
briefly, only to reappear elsewhere on your body. At the same
time, one may develop flu-like symptoms: fatigue, chills, headache,
muscle and joint aches, and low fever. However, you may not develop
a rash (which is often the case here in Southern Calif. so far)
but just the flu-like symptoms - or you may have none of these
early symptoms at all.
PHASE TWO. About 20%
of untreated people develop neurological or cardiac disorders
weeks or months after the bite.
PHASE THREE. About
half of untreated people develop recurring or chronic arthritis
after a latent period of up to two years.
Finally, what should
you do if you are your kids are bitten by a tick? If possible
save the tick for identification. If it is a deer tick it may
be justified to begin a coarse of antibiotics right away, even
if you have no symptoms (currently, this is probably not indicated
here in Southern California, but may be applicable if you have
been to a more endemic area). You should certainly let the office
know, and always be alert to the development of a rash or other
symptoms during the next few weeks.
PRECAUTIONS (re tick
bite and exposure):
Wear light-colored shoes, socks, long pants and a long-sleeved
shirt so the dark ticks stand out more readily. Tuck in your shirt,
and pull your socks up over the pant cuffs. Ticks most commonly
affix themselves to the feet, ankles, and legs. Apply an insect
repellent to your shoes, socks, and pant cuffs. A repellent with
DEET is considered the most effective against ticks (avoid over
exposure directly to skin, especially in young children). While
outside, check your clothes often for ticks. If you find any,
remove them. When you come home, inspect yourself thoroughly for
ticks, paying special attention to the groin, back, armpits, and
head. If you regularly spend a lot of time in tick country, don't
wear your field clothes home. This will reduce the chances of
members. Dogs and cats should wear tick collars year-round. If
you find a tick embedded on your body, use a fine tweezers to
grasp it as close to the skin as you can and gently pull it out,
making sure thathe mouth parts do not remain in the skin.