Feeling sick after a weekend hike? That may be caused by an infection from a tick bite.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by deer ticks. If caught early, it is easily treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system, causing more serious symptoms that can be difficult to cure.
Every year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease get reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but the agency estimates the real number of diagnosed cases may be ten times higher, or about 300,000.
The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease appear in three stages:
Early symptoms resemble a mild flu and may include:
• Body aches
• Swollen lymph nodes
• A red skin rash in the shape of a bull’s eye may appear, within the month, at the site of the bite
If untreated, new symptoms of a Lyme infection may appear over the course of several weeks. These include:
• Heart and nervous system issues
• Bell’s palsy (paralysis on one or both sides of the face)
• Severe headache and neck stiffness due to inflammation (meningitis)
• Pain and swelling in the large joints
• Shooting pains causing sleep problems
• Heart palpitations.
Late-stage infection may occur months or years after the bite. Symptoms may include:
• Arthritis, particularly in the knees
• Neurological issues, such as shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
• Memory and concentration problems
When found early, Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin or cefuroxime. Most people who start treatment in this stage improve quickly. If not, or if you're having later-stage symptoms, your doctor may need to give antibiotics directly into a vein (IV infusion). This allows the medicine to start working immediately.
Most people who are treated with antibiotics early make a quick and complete recovery. However, if you've been treated for Lyme disease and still don't feel well, talk to your doctor. When it comes to Lyme disease, prevention is key. Apply insect repellent containing at least 20 percent DEET before spending time outdoors and check yourself for ticks after any activity that might expose you. If you see a tick on your body, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, pull it out with a steady motion, then wash the area with soap and water. The odds of getting Lyme disease are lower if the tick is removed as soon as possible.
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