Simple Tips To Prevent Lyme Disease. Yesterday a patient contacted me frantically while vacationing in the state of Maine worried because she had just found a tick on her back. She had been told by another physician, “I’d rather treat cancer than chronic lyme disease,” and was quite worried. I reassured her that prophylactic treatment with antibiotics would treat any potential infection that she was exposed to through the tick bite and I called in a prescription for her.
You may think that was overkill, but every month in my practice I see patients who had a tick bite years ago and continue to suffer from inflammatory reactions, immune dysfunction, and even neurologic sequelae from a long-ago tick that was carrying Borrellia Burgdorferi (vector that causes lyme disease) or other co-infections… Due to urban spread into previously undisturbed habitats for deer and mice, lyme disease is becoming epidemic in certain counties in the United States and spreading to new locations nearby. Lyme disease is transmitted through the bites of blacklegged deer ticks that carry the B. burgdorferi bacteria. Acute symptoms include fatigue, fever, flu-like symptoms, and sometimes a bullseye-shaped rash centered on the bite. However, many people never notice or experience the classic rash. Researchers for the CDC wrote, “Over time, the number of counties identified as having high incidence of Lyme disease in the northeastern states increased more than 320 percent.” The risk is expanding in all directions in areas that are known to be hot spots for ticks – the Northwest, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and parts of California. About 20,000 to 30,000 cases are reported in the US every year, but experts say that the actual number could be 10 times greater. To read the CDC full report, click here.
Prevention is your best course of action as I explained to the patient who contacted me. Second best is to go ahead and treat a known tick bite exposure in a highly endemic area with antibiotics (30% of patients who have lyme never recall having a rash). Because it is July and prime tick season in many states, I wanted to write about the best tips to prevent tick exposure and bites in the first place.
Here’s a list of my Tips To Prevent Lyme Disease:
- Wear protective clothing: Pretreat clothing, boots, socks and camping equipment with bug repellant, such as 20-30% DEET or the preferred less toxic 20% picaridin or 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus. A recent Consumer Report showed these natural repellants worked better than DEET, which is neurotoxic.
- Walk in the center of trails and avoid heavily wooded areas: This includes areas with high grasses or leaf litter. The little buggers like to jump from the brush/grass to your ankles. Some advise avoiding white or bright socks that may attract them and even tucking socks into the pants so no skin is left exposed. A wide brimmed hat is also wise as they can jump from nearby leaves or trees to your scalp.
- Bathe or shower within a few hours of camping or hiking: This makes it easier find ticks on your skin. Have a friend or family member do a “tick check” examining your back and scalp and other areas that you might not be able to see well. Don’t forget to check your pets as well. Washing and drying clothes on high for 30min should kill any ticks that attached to your clothing.
- Check your dogs: many people don’t realize that their beloved pet (and horses, too) can carry ticks which transmit lyme disease. Be sure to check your pets after hiking or camping in wooded areas and remove any ticks that you see promptly.
If you DO notice a tick on your skin, remove it promptly and properly. Here are some tips from UpToDate:
INSTRUCTIONS FOR HOW TO REMOVE A TICK
The proper way to remove a tick is to use a set of fine tweezers and grip the tick as close to the skin as is possible. Do not use a smoldering match or cigarette, nail polish, petroleum jelly (eg, Vaseline), liquid soap, or kerosene because they may irritate the tick and cause it to behave like a syringe, injecting bodily fluids into the wound.
The proper technique for tick removal includes the following:
- Use fine tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.
- Pull backwards gently but firmly, using an even, steady pressure. Do not jerk or twist.
- Do not squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick, since its bodily fluids may contain infection-causing organisms.
- After removing the tick, wash the skin and hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- If any mouth parts of the tick remain in the skin, these should be left alone; they will be expelled on their own. Attempts to remove these parts may result in significant skin trauma.
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