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Look Out for Lyme: Tips for Prevention & Detection
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States, affecting a whopping 30,000 Americans each year. While treatable, it can lead to some serious health complications when left undetected. That's why it's important to know the signs and symptoms — and when to seek prompt medical attention.
Ticks = trouble
Need another reason to hate ticks? Here's a great one: they're the culprits behind the spread of Lyme disease. Humans get Lyme disease when a black-legged tick infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria attaches itself to them. This usually happens in grassy or heavily wooded areas where ticks run rampant. The good news? Only a small amount of tick bites lead to Lyme disease. In most cases, the tick must be attached for at least 36 hours to transmit the bacteria — which is why it's so important to check your skin and hair when you come indoors.
The look of Lyme
Deer ticks are tiny — sometimes no bigger than a poppyseed — making them tricky to spot. Some people won't even know they've been bitten, so it's important to know and look out for the symptoms of Lyme.
The signs of Lyme disease usually appear in stages, but early symptoms to look out for include:
- Rash that resembles a bullseye
- Neck stiffness
- Muscle aches or joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
Beware the bullseye
The telltale sign of Lyme disease is a red "bullseye" rash. The rash develops at the site of infection and expands slowly over days, sometimes growing up to 12 inches across. It's typically not itchy or painful.
It's important to note that the bullseye rash occurs in about 70 to 80% of Lyme cases — but not all of them. So, be on the lookout for the other signs and symptoms, too.
Who's at risk?
Ticks aren't picky eaters. They don't care who they bite, meaning everyone (your pets included) is at risk of contracting Lyme disease. That said, where you live, your lifestyle, and the season can increase your chances of getting Lyme.
Deer ticks are most active in late spring and summer. And while they live in many parts of the country, they’re especially fond of heavily wooded areas in the Northeast and Midwest. People who spend a lot of time outdoors in these regions are especially at risk for Lyme disease.
Tell Lyme disease to bug off
If you know how to protect yourself from potential tick bites, you can help minimize your risk of contracting Lyme disease. Here are a few quick tips:
- Cover up. Wear pants and socks when you're in the woods or areas with lots of trees and tall grass.
- Spray on. Before you spend time outdoors, spray insect repellent on your skin and clothing. For maximum protection, look for insect repellent with a 20% or higher concentration of DEET.
- Stay on track. Out on a hike? Stay in the middle of the trail and try to avoid tall grass or bushes.
- Check yourself. Check your skin and hair within two hours of coming indoors, if possible. Be especially careful after spending time in wooded and grassy areas. Like we said before — deer ticks are tiny, so you might not discover them unless you search carefully.
- And check Fido, too. If you have outdoor pets, check them for ticks before letting them into the house. Ticks can hitch a ride indoors on your pet, then fall off and attach themselves to you. Plus, your furry friends can develop symptoms of Lyme disease as well.
- Consider a shower. It's a good idea to shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks can hang out on your skin for a few hours before attaching themselves, and showering may remove unattached ticks.
- Talk to your PCP. If you find an attached tick on you and suspect it’s been there for more than 36 hours, you can talk to your Primary Care pr about getting prophylactic antibiotic treatment.
When to consult your Firefly team
Prevention is always the best approach to Lyme disease. If you have questions about how to stay safe this summer — or if you think a tick has bitten you — we’re here. Reach out to your care team with any questions through the Firefly app.
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