Lyme Disease Risk Peaking

Ask The Expert Thomas F. Hattar, Anne Arundel Medical Center

May 25, 2009

Lyme disease, a highly preventable bacterial infection, strikes nearly 20,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The peak incidence of Lyme disease will occur from May through early October, so now is the time to guard against the tick bites that transmit the infection. Dr. Thomas F. Hattar, of the Annapolis Center for Integrative Medicine and Anne Arundel Medical Center, offers five things to know about Lyme disease going into the summer season:

* Lyme disease can usually be prevented by avoiding areas of tall grass and brush where ticks reside. When this isn't possible, wearing long pants with the legs tucked into socks and long-sleeve shirts tucked into your pants can help you avoid ticks attaching to your limbs. Spraying bug spray at the borders of your pants may also help.

* Because you have about 72 hours to detect ticks on your skin before Lyme disease is transmitted, you should check your skin carefully and routinely after exiting any areas that you suspect ticks may be present. If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. A tick that has not yet begun to ingest blood may only be the size of a pencil point, so inspect your skin carefully. * The most common symptoms of Lyme disease are fatigue, a low-grade fever, muscle aches, headache, neck stiffness, joint pain, enlarged lymph nodes, and at times, a skin rash. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you should call your health care provider and schedule an examination.

* If you suspect you have contracted Lyme disease, you should seek medical advice for possible treatment. Your health care provider may order routine blood work as well as a Lyme disease test. Once confirmed, antibiotics are curative for Lyme disease more than 98 percent of the time.

* Late-stage Lyme disease is characterized by neurologic and heart involvement, including infection of the brain, paralysis of the facial muscles and sometimes even fatal heart arrhythmia. These can be treated by long-term, intravenous antibiotics and, sometimes, hospital admission will be required. Death can occur in some cases. For this reason, it is important to detect Lyme disease early.

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