How to Reduce Risk of Lyme Disease

Many people spend time outdoors year-round. However, those who are spending the most time outside are also the ones most at risk of contracting Lyme disease. Lyme disease is spread by tick bites, specifically through the bite of the blacklegged (deer) tick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are approximately 300,000 new infections each year in the United States.

One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from contracting Lyme disease is to learn about what the disease is and how to prevent it.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that a person can get from the bite of an infected deer tick. Symptoms of Lyme disease can range in severity but generally begin with a red rash that looks like a bullseye. It is important to note that not all people who contract Lyme disease have a rash and many may not know they were bitten in the first place. As the infection spreads, other symptoms may occur:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches

Many of these symptoms mimic that of the flu, making Lyme disease hard to diagnose. Lab tests may not even give a clear answer until a person has been infected for a few weeks. If you have spent time outdoors or suspect you could have been bitten by a tick, you should alert your doctor immediately so they can begin proper testing and treatment.

Lyme disease, when properly diagnosed, can be cured in most cases with antibiotics. Many people who have been treated still experience joint and muscle aches and other nervous system symptoms. This is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS) and has been known to affect victims for long periods of time.

How to prevent Lyme disease

The first step in preventing Lyme disease is knowing where people are most at risk of getting bitten by an infected tick. Blacklegged ticks live in moist and humid environments in and around wooded or grassy areas. People living in New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest are at greatest risk of Lyme disease.

If you spend time outdoors, there are precautions you can take. The CDC recommends using an EPA-registered insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Parents should apply these repellents to children.

It is also recommended to use a product that contains permethrin to treat all clothing articles and gear. This chemical remains protective through several wash cycles.

Some other tips to prevent tick bites and Lyme disease include:

  • Wearing light clothing so it is easier to spot ticks
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck pants into socks when in areas where ticks could be
  • Remove clothing when you get home and put it in the dryer at a high temperature for 10-15 minutes to kill any ticks.
  • Examine yourself and your pets each day. Feel for any bumps and check common tick bite areas such as the knees, groin, armpits, behind the ears, scalp, and bellybutton.

If you have been bitten by a tick, remove it as quickly as possible and closely monitor the area. If you being to feel any of the signs or symptoms of Lyme disease, go see your doctor as soon as possible.