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Don’t let Lyme disease tick you off this fall

There is still time to enjoy the fall colours. A long walk in the countryside is an excellent way to get a bit of exercise. The crisp air will clear your lungs; the beautiful scenery will clear your mind.

There is still time to enjoy the fall colours. A long walk in the countryside is an excellent way to get a bit of exercise. The crisp air will clear your lungs; the beautiful scenery will clear your mind.

Fortunately, many common health complaints, like allergies and skin problems, settle down during the fall. Unfortunately, catching Lyme disease is most common during the fall months.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through the bite of a deer tick. It was first recognized in 1975, after a lot of children were diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis near Lyme, Connecticut.

An investigation uncovered one common factor: most affected children lived near wooded areas full of ticks and their first symptoms appeared at the height of tick season.

The majority of these children said they had an unusual skin rash just before their symptoms of arthritis, and that this rash appeared where they had been bitten by a tick. The rash started as a small spot, which grew over days or weeks to form a circular, triangular, or oval-shaped rash, often becoming as large as the victim’s back.

It was called a bull’s eye rash because it appeared as a dot, surrounded by a clear area which was encircled by another strip of red rash.  

Investigators found that tiny deer ticks (not wood or dog ticks) infected with a spiral-shaped bacterium or spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi) were responsible for the outbreak of arthritis in Lyme. Although deer ticks usually travel on deer, other animals may also carry them: white-footed field mice, opossums, skunks, raccoons, weasels, foxes, shrews, moles, squirrels, chipmunks, and horses, to name a few.

As a result, infected deer ticks may be found anywhere these animals can be found.

Although the first symptoms of Lyme disease may seem quite mild, the long-term effects can be severe. In the early stages, you may just feel as though you’ve caught the flu. You feel tired with a stiff neck, fever, chills, swollen glands, headache, muscle aches, and/or joint pain. If the disease advances, you develop nerve problems and arthritis, especially in the knees.

When untreated, Lyme disease can affect your nervous system, causing a stiff neck, severe headache, temporary paralysis of the facial muscles, poor coordination or pain and weakness in your limbs. However, some less tangible changes may also occur, including: memory loss, poor concentration, mood swings and sleep disruptions.

These nervous system abnormalities are usually not immediately obvious, but develop several weeks, months, or even years later. The symptoms often last for weeks or months and may recur, but they usually start to resolve even before antibiotics are started. With treatment, you can expect your nervous system to fully recover.

Lyme disease can also temporarily affect your heart, causing an irregular, slow heartbeat, which can lead to dizziness or shortness of breath. It can also cause inflammation in your eyes. Both these conditions usually last less than a couple of weeks and disappear with treatment.

Lyme disease can also cause arthritis. Within a few weeks of an infected tick bite, about 60% of people who do not receive antibiotics develop ongoing attacks of painful, swollen joints, which last from a few days to a few months. This arthritis does not remain stationary, but shifts from joint to joint, often settling in the knee. A few joints may even be affected at the same time. Up to 20% of people with untreated Lyme disease develop arthritis permanently.

So, if you have been bitten by a tick and live in an area known to have Lyme disease, see your doctor right away for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. In its early stages, Lyme disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics. The sooner therapy begins following infection, the quicker and more complete your recovery will be.

However, why not avoid Lyme disease by taking these precautions when walking in nature?:  Wear long sleeves and tightly woven clothing. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and your pants into your socks or boots. Walk in the center of trails to avoid picking up ticks from overhanging grass and brush. Use tick repellents with DEET on your clothing, shoes and socks.

Then, when your walk is over, examine yourself for ticks. If you see one in your hair and clothes, wash them quickly. If you see one attached to your skin, remove it immediately. Use blunt tweezers and tug gently but firmly near the head of the tick until it releases your skin. Do not crush or squeeze its body, or touch it with bare fingers because the body contains infecting bacterium. After removal, wipe the bite thoroughly with an antiseptic to prevent further infection. Later, if you notice a bull’s eye rash appearing, visit your doctor immediately. Take these steps and safely enjoy the fall outdoors. Don’t let Lyme disease tick you off.

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