Updated and republished from the July 2012 issue of the SSDP e-newsletter.
By Jay M. Ritt, MD
As the temperature rises and New Englanders head outdoors for summer fun, the risk of Lyme disease grows. This bacterial infection has reached near-epidemic proportions in the Northeast, and the Board certified dermatologists at SSDP have noticed a marked increase in the number of Lyme disease cases being diagnosed by our practice this year.
Transmitted by the bite of the blacklegged tick (deer tick), Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium, borrelia burgdorferi. It typically presents with some or all of the following symptoms:
- Skin rash
- Joint pain
- Swollen glands
While many of these symptoms occur with other illnesses, the skin rash associated with Lyme disease is distinctive. Appearing in approximately 70 - 80 percent of infected individuals, the rash begins at the site of the tick bite within 3 to 30 days after infection and gradually expands into a ring-like or bull's eye type lesion. Smaller, similarly appearing spots may also appear on other areas of the body. Typically, the rash is not painful or itchy, but it will look red and feel warm to the touch.
If caught early, Lyme disease can be easily and effectively treated with oral antibiotics, such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil. With such treatment, the chance of complete recovery is excellent. Left untreated, Lyme disease can spread and produce a variety of symptoms such as additional skin rashes, facial or Bell's palsy, severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis, pain and swelling in joints, shooting pains, and heart palpitations and dizziness. It can even become a chronic condition.
The best prevention for Lyme disease is reducing one's exposure to ticks, especially during the warmer months when ticks are most active. When outside in wooded or tick-infested areas, consider using some or all of the following strategies:
- Wear light-colored clothing to make ticks readily visible
- Tuck pant legs into socks or boots, and wear long-sleeved shirts
- Use repellents containing DEET on exposed skin and products containing permethrin on clothing and gear
- Avoid with high grass and piles of leaves
- Walk in the center of trails in wooded areas.
Upon returning indoors, bathe or shower as soon as possible and perform a full body. Since ticks seek out warm, moist, and often hard-to-see places, be sure to check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and in the hair.
If you find a tick, remove it promptly with a fine-point tweezers. If you show signs of illness within a few weeks after receiving a tick bite, see a Board certified dermatologist or other health professional to determine whether you have been exposed to Lyme disease and determine an appropriate course of treatment.