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Understanding Lyme Disease

Understanding Lyme DiseaseFor those living in North America, especially in the Northeast and upper Midwest, watching out for ticks bearing Lyme disease is a common part of summer. The CDC estimates 300,000 cases of Lyme disease annually with the most reported cases in states in the Northeast like Maine, Connecticut and New Hampshire and states in the upper Midwest like Wisconsin and Minnesota. To help keep you healthy this summer, here are 8 things to know about Lyme disease and how to lower your risk of tick bites.

About Lyme Disease:

  1. Lyme disease is contracted when an infected deer tick bites a human. Despite its name, a deer tick can be on any small animal or in long grass or wooded areas so its name can be misleading. The proper name is Ixodes scapularis. Though ticks cannot fly or jump, they can crawl onto people or animals as they pass by.
  2. To contract Lyme disease, a tick must be attached for 36-48 hours in most cases. This allows the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, to spread through the bite of an infected tick. Because of the extended exposure time, you should check for ticks each night before bed for you and for children and pets. Ticks are most likely to go unnoticed in harder to see areas like armpits, scalp, and groin areas. After spending time outdoors be sure to check yourself and your family for ticks.\
  3. In most cases, humans contract Lyme disease from the bite of a nymph tick. Nymph refers to the size, not type, of tick. Nymphs are immature ticks and very small, less than 2 mm wide. Though adult ticks also carry the bacteria, the small size of nymphs makes them easier to go unnoticed, therefore spreading the disease easier.
  4. Nymph deer ticks feed in the hotter months, while adult deer ticks prefer the cooler months. This means that while the greatest risk of contracting Lyme disease is in the spring and summer months when the tiny nymphs are feeding, you can still be susceptible to a tick bite in other seasons.
  5. Lyme disease symptoms do not always show immediately. Though some symptoms may show soon after you have been bitten by an infected tick, other cases do not display symptoms until months later. If you notice symptoms of Lyme disease in cooler months, talk to your physician about your symptoms and any exposure you may have had to ticks in previous months.
  6. Lyme disease symptoms can imitate a multitude of conditions. A good identifier is the rash, though it’s not present in all cases. The erythema migrans or “bull’s eye” rash occurs in 70-80% of infected people, according to the CDC. Other symptoms can include fatigue, chills, joint aches, swollen lymph nodes, and headaches [link to when to go to the er for headaches.]
  7. Lyme disease is a clinical diagnosis. This means that there is not an accurate test that can be run to confirm the diagnosis. Instead, your physician will perform a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms and conditions.
  8. Less than 50% of people with Lyme disease can recall being bitten by a tick. If you have symptoms, talk to your doctor. Not all symptoms are present in each case, like the bull’s eye rash. It is important to talk to your doctor if you feel unwell.

Don’t forget to watch your yard and pets to help eliminate opportunities for tick bites. Keeping your lawn tidy by trimming tall grass and brush, mowing the lawn frequently, and raking up leaves all help eliminate being exposed to ticks. If you have pets, check them for ticks each night if they spend time outside and encourage them to avoid areas with overgrown grass or tall brush.

When we get beautiful summer weather, we want to enjoy. Learning about Lyme disease can help you enjoy the outdoors and to keep you healthy.