Check for ticks
It’s time to get out and enjoy the summer weather ... but don’t forget to check for ticks when you come inside.
Infected deer ticks can carry Lyme disease. Lyme disease can affect the skin, nervous system, heart and joints. Most cases of Lyme disease occur in June and July. You’re more likely to get Lyme disease if you spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas where ticks carrying the disease thrive. It’s important to take common-sense precautions such as wearing long-sleeve shirts, pants and checking your skin carefully after being in grassy wooded areas.
Lyme disease signs and symptoms vary widely because Lyme disease can affect various parts of the body. Not everyone with the disease will have all of the signs and symptoms. But in general, Lyme disease can cause:
• Rash. A small, red bump may appear within a few days to a month, usually at the site of the tick bite — often in your groin or belt area or behind your knee. The bump may be warm to the touch and mildly tender. Over the next few days, the redness expands, forming a rash that may be as small as your fingertip or as large as 12 inches across. It often resembles a bull’s-eye, with a red ring surrounding a clear area and a red center. The rash, called erythema migrans, is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease, affecting about 70 to 80 percent of infected people.
• Flu-like symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.
• Joint pain. If the infection is not treated, you may develop bouts of severe joint pain and swelling several weeks to months after you’re infected. Your knees are especially likely to be affected, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
• Neurological problems. In some cases, inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of one side of your face (Bell’s palsy), numbness or weakness in your limbs, and impaired muscle movement may occur weeks, months or even years after an untreated infection.
Less common signs and symptoms: Some people may experience heart problems — such as an irregular heartbeat — several weeks after infection, but this rarely lasts more than a few days or weeks. Eye inflammation, hepatitis and severe fatigue are possible as well.
If you know you’ve been bitten and experience signs and symptoms of Lyme disease — particularly if you live in an area where Lyme disease is prevalent — contact your health care provider immediately. Treatment for Lyme disease is most effective if begun early. Only a minority of deer tick bites leads to Lyme disease. The longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of getting the disease.
If you’re treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you’re likely to recover completely. In later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate treatment.
Lyme disease is on the rise in Iowa. In 1993, there were eight reported cases. In 2007 (the peak year), there were 125 reported cases. The last reported year, 2011, had 100 cases reported. The affected age range was 2-89 years old.
Note: Facts provided by Iowa Department of Public Health and the Mayo Clinic.
Curtis Smith, RN, BSN, is the outpatient director at Jefferson County Health Center.