Lyme disease is an illness caused by bacteria (germs) spread by certain types of ticks. If the disease is not treated, it can cause serious heart, nerve, or joint problems. Lyme disease can sometimes be hard for a doctor to diagnose, since the symptoms can be like those of other diseases.
There are two stages of Lyme disease: early and late.
People with early stage Lyme disease may feel tired and sore, and they may have a "bull’s eye" or donut-shaped skin rash within a few days to a few weeks of getting bit by the tick. They may also have a fever, chills, headache, and even swollen glands.
People with late stage Lyme disease (which may happen weeks, months, or years after a tick bite) may feel pain and swelling in their joints, such as the knees, elbows, or others. They may also develop heart or nervous system problems.
Can Lyme disease be treated?
Yes! Antibiotics (medicine to fight the bacteria) are usually very effective at treating early stage Lyme disease. Late stage Lyme disease may be more difficult to diagnose and treat. If you think that you may have Lyme disease, see you doctor right away.
What spreads Lyme disease?
In Massachusetts, the deer tick spreads the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Deer ticks can be very small, and they attach to people or animals by biting and feeding on a person’s or animal’s blood. The ticks often feed on deer or the white-footed mouse. The baby ticks, called "nymphs" are usually what feed on people. They are about the size of a poppy seed and they are small enough that you might not notice them feeding. Not all deer ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria. However, if a tick is infected, the longer it is attached to you, the greater the chance that it will transmit the bacteria into your blood. Most experts think it takes at least 24 hours for a tick to spread the bacteria into your body.
Can ticks also spread other diseases?
Yes. In Massachusetts, the larger dog tick does not carry Lyme disease, but it can spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia. The deer tick can also spread ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. These are serious diseases that may have symptoms similar to Lyme disease. If you have questions about these diseases, ask your doctor.
How do these ticks get on people?
Ticks crawl around on grass or bushes and try to find animals or people. The ticks don’t jump, fly, or hop, but they can crawl off the ground or grasses onto a low part of the body, like your ankles. Once they are on a person, they can crawl up the body and hide in hairy areas, like the head or underarms. People who work outside are at risk for having ticks crawl onto them. Other people who picnic, hike, camp, walk in grassy areas, or garden outdoors can also get ticks on them.
Is there a vaccine against Lyme disease?
A Lyme disease vaccine for people is being tested. It is expected to be available soon. Ask your doctor about it. There is a yearly Lyme disease vaccine for dogs; ask you veterinarian about it.
Don’t forget your pets!
Pets can bring ticks from outside into your home. Do a "tick check" on your pets to take off any ticks in their fur or hair. Remember to look for the tiny deer tick, as well as the larger, common dog tick. Don’t remove the ticks with your bare fingers. Instead, use tweezers and drown the tick in rubbing alcohol or cup of water.
Make your home unfriendly to ticks!
Remove extra brush from your yard, clip shrubs that are close to the house, and keep the lawn mowed. Clear away woodpiles, trash and leaves. This will help keep ticks from coming into the area around your house. Small animals like mice that carry ticks may live in stone walls. Keep kids and pets from playing near these stonewalls.
Protect yourself from ticks - Use clothes to cover your arms, legs and body. Wear long pants and tuck your pant legs into your socks to keep ticks from climbing onto your leg. Wearing light colored clothing may make it easier to see the ticks, which are brown or black. Use insect repellent on your clothes or exposed body parts. DON’T use repellents on babies, and always follow the directions on the container. Repellents that contain "DEET" can be effective to keep ticks off. Don’t use a concentration higher than 15% on kids and don’t use a DEET concentration of more than 30% for adults. Check the container and follow directions. Another repellent, call permethrin, is very effective, but it can be used on clothing only, and it can’t be used nears kids.
For more information, call your doctor, your local health department, or the Department of Public Health