In 1977, the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut reported the first case of what we now call Lyme disease.
In the decades that have passed, officials have discovered new and more effective ways to both treat and prevent the disease and its often debilitating symptoms. But that doesn’t make it any easier for those in the midst of infection.
Here’s everything you need to know about what Lyme disease looks like, what could happen if you don’t treat it in time, and how to prevent it from happening altogether.
What is Lyme disease?
A bite from a black-legged or deer tick can transmit the disease from insect to human in no time at all. It’s the most common tick-borne infection in the United States, and could prove life-threatening if it isn’t treated.
Not all black-legged or deer ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. But there are still thousands of confirmed cases in the U.S. every year.
If your doctor tests you for Lyme disease, and you have it, they’ll treat you with antibiotics. The medication will clear the infection more quickly the sooner you seek treatment, so don’t delay.
But first, you need to know what to look out for.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
A signature rash is usually a person’s first clue that they’ve been bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease. But it isn’t the only sign you have to rely on to determine if you need to get checked out.
Symptoms of Lyme disease might include:
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, fatigue, chills/aches, headache)
- A circular or bullseye rash that appears three to 30 days after a tick bite
- Joint pain
- Impaired muscle movement
- Numbness or weakness in your limbs.
Some people experience extreme fatigue, liver inflammation, and heart problems, but these symptoms are rare and may be unrelated to Lyme disease.
The rash that appears days to weeks after a tick bite does not burn or itch. It can also expand to up to 12 inches across over time. Some people also develop rashes in multiple places on their bodies.
Untreated Lyme disease can worsen some of these symptoms, so contact your doctor if you’ve experienced a tick bite and start showing symptoms. Even if you’ve been treated for Lyme disease before, you could have it again.
Some people also claim to develop something called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, or chronic Lyme disease. They experience symptoms such as ongoing fatigue and joint pain, and anti-inflammatory medications are the only known way to treat it. Because it’s not a bacterial infection, antibiotics can’t relieve the symptoms.
Thankfully, there are a few easy things you can do to prevent your exposure to the disease-causing bacteria.
How to prevent Lyme disease
Often, preventing Lyme disease doesn’t cost much. It’s not complicated, either. If you live in an area where you’re more likely to get bitten by a tick, you might have to put in a little extra effort. But that’s better than living through the above symptoms.
- Wear long sleeves and pants when spending time in wooded or grassy areas.
- Use insect repellent on your skin.
- Make your yard tick-proof: Remove brush and leaves.
- Treat your clothes with permethrin, or purchase pretreated clothing.
- Check yourself — and your pets — for ticks.
- If you do find a tick, remove it gently with tweezers and get rid of it.
When it comes to Lyme disease, it’s important to be vigilant and consistent. Don’t skip out on checking for ticks tomorrow just because you haven’t found any in the past two weeks. Ask your vet the best ways to keep your dogs tick-free.
And if you suspect you’ve been infected, get checked out — you don’t want to wait and suffer the consequences.
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