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Preventing Lyme Disease & Treating It Early

Ticks can feed not only on deer, but also potentially on urban animals like squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons and other critters. Ticks in MN have a higher risk of carrying Lyme Disease and other co-infections, so if you or your child is bitten by a tick, there is a higher risk of developing Lyme Disease as well as other infections that tend to be present with borrellia burgdorfii (the spirochete that causes Lyme Disease). The highest risks are from mid-May through mid-July when the smaller nymph stage of the deer tick is feeding, but acute cases are seen from April through October in Minnesota, and sometimes earlier or later as we see more of the effects of global warming.  This year, with early warmer temperatures, many spring insects are already active, including ticks. PLEASE make sure to start with tick prevention measures now.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease

Check and re-check for ticks when you are in tick-infested ares.

  1. When in grassy, wooded areas whether or not there are deer present, walk in the center of the trail, if present, to avoid picking up ticks from grass and brush.
  2. Wear light colored clothing so ticks will be more visible.
  3. Create a barrier to ticks by tucking pants into socks or boots and tuck long sleeved shirt into pants. You may also want to wear a hat with a “sun flap” in back, to try to deter ticks from attaching to your neck or scalp.
  4. Use a repellent containing DEET or permethrin on your clothing (ideally not on your skin and be careful not to breathe in the spray or apply near children), and carefully follow the directions on the container. If needed, apply the safest type of tick repellent you can find to skin areas not able to be covered with clothing, and then wash off as soon as possible after being outdoors in higher risk areas. EWG’s guide to bug repellant is a great link to find how to use as little chemicals as possible, which products are safer, and the safest ways to apply to your child and self.
  5. After being outdoors in tick habitat, get out of your clothes immediately, do a complete body check, shower and vigorously towel dry. Wash your clothes immediately as to not spread any ticks around your living area.
  6. Pets, cars, and gear should also be checked for ticks right away so ticks don’t have a chance to spread around the living area.
  7. Putting clothes in the dryer for 1 hour on high heat has shown to kill ticks.

How to Remove a Tick

The risk of getting a tick-borne disease is smaller (but still very possible) if the tick is removed soon after it becomes attached. Previous reports have been that deer ticks must remain attached one to two days to transmit Lyme disease, and about one day for the other diseases, however we are aware of cases where the lyme or other co-infections were transmitted with immediate contact or very short periods of time, so be cautious about any tick bite.

  1. Take precautions when in tick habitat, but don’t panic if you find a deer tick on you.  Not all ticks are infected, and prompt tick removal can prevent illness in some cases.
  2. Use tweezers, or even better, a Tick Twister to grasp the tick close to its mouth (at the insertion site).
  3. Gently and S-L-O-W-L-Y pull the tick straight outward (if using  a tick twister, follow the package directions and twist as removing the tick).
  4. To avoid contact with the bacteria, if present, do not squeeze the ticks’ body.
  5. Save the tick in case it might need to be tested for infection, in the event you/your child develops symptoms.
  6. Wash the area and apply an antiseptic to the bite immediately.
  7. Watch for any potential early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease (fatigue, lethargy, muscle or joint pain, target-like or other rash, aches, chills, fever, or mental health changes, among others).
  8. Contact your practitioner if any concerns about a tick bite or if you would like to come in for an appointment.  Early treatment is important, in the event of acute Lyme infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease

The signs and symptoms of Lyme disease vary among individuals. A person may not have all of the symptoms. People often feel like they have the flu.

3-30 days after a tick bite

  • A distinctive “Target” rash
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle and Joint pain
  • Fatigue

Days to weeks after

  • Multiple rashes
  • Facial paralysis on one side of the face
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Headache
  • Weakness, numbness, or pain in arms or legs
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness, feeling lighthearted, or heart palpitations
  • Persistent weakness and fatigue

Weeks to months after

  • Joint swelling from arthritis in one or more joints, often the knees, but can affect elbows and other joints
  • Problems with nervous system, mental health issues
  • Persistent weakness and fatigue

Diagnosis

If you suspect Lyme disease, or a related co-infection, you should contact your primary health care practitioner immediately.

A Diagnosis includes:

  • Physical examination
  • History of possible exposure to ticks, especially in areas of high tick infection (like Minnesota and Wisconsin)
  • Blood tests may be performed
  • Blood tests may be negative within the first 2-3 weeks of illness. A blood test is not required for diagnosis of early Lyme disease when the characteristic “Target” rash is present.  The blood test is important part of diagnosis for patients who have been ill for more than 2-4 weeks.
  • Early recognition of signs and symptoms of Lyme disease is very important for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

If you have a suspected or confirmed case of Lyme disease and are looking for treatment, or would like to be tested for Lyme disease Catherine Dolan MD and Stephanie Belseth APRN, CNP at Newbridge Clinic specialize in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease and related co-infections.

Resources
1. MN Department of Natural Resources: Deer Ticks

2. MN Department of Health: About Lyme Disease

3. International Lyme and Related Diseases Society