Gail Jackson, RN, BSN, CIC, Newport Hospital’s infection prevention coordinator
I am sure that all of us know someone who has had Lyme disease. So often, people are unaware that they have been bitten by a tick and so they ignore the signs and symptoms that could help with early detection and treatment.
Living in the Northeast has its pros and cons - great sports teams, beautiful foliage, but also the risk for infection with tick-borne diseases. Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne disease and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 95 percent of all Lyme disease cases reported in 2012 were from just 13 states, most of those concentrated in the Northeast. In Rhode Island, 217 cases were reported in 2012.
Lyme disease is spread through the bite of an infected tick. Typical symptoms of early infection include fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, swollen lymph nodes and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans (a bulls-eye rash). This rash begins at the site of a tick bite and occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected people. Symptoms of Lyme disease can occur 3 to 30 days after a tick bite. If you experience these symptoms, call your health care provider. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system; however, most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics.
The diagnosis of Lyme disease should take into account the following factors:
It’s the nymph, an immature tick less than 2 mm in size, which is most often responsible for bites in humans. Ticks also secrete small amounts of saliva with anesthetic properties so the person doesn’t feel the tick bite. If the tick is in a sheltered spot, it can go unnoticed. Ticks need to be attached to a person’s skin for 36 to 48 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease, so daily skin checks are needed to find and remove a tick before it has a chance to spread disease.
If you do find a tick, remove it immediately with tweezers. Avoid crushing the tick’s body. Do not use petroleum jelly, nail polish or other products. Grasp the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Do not be alarmed if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.
The best way to prevent the spread of tick-borne diseases is to keep a tick bite from happening. Here are some general prevention tips when spending time outside in the woods or near tall grasses:
photo courtesy of Greg Bass
The backyard is a common place to find ticks, but it’s easy to create a tick-free zone by using landscaping.
Be vigilant when it comes to the threat of tick-borne diseases. With the proper precautions and prevention techniques, you can protect yourself, your pets and your family from tick bites.
Originally published in the Newport Daily News