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Understanding Lyme Disease and Ticks

03-22-2018
Kendra Richardson, MD

April showers bring… tick season? That’s right, according to the CDC—April through September is considered the most active season for ticks. Like mosquitos, ticks come with their own dangers for people who like to spend time outside in the warmer months. One of the biggest concerns with tick bites is Lyme disease, which affects around 300,000 people in the US each year.

But what exactly is Lyme disease, and how do we know if we’re at risk? “It all begins with a bite,” says Kendra Richardson, MD with CaroMont Family Medicine - Lake Wylie. “The bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, is the root cause of Lyme disease, and the transmission of the bacteria occurs through the bite of an infected tick, which is called Ixodes scapularis.” This type of tick is more commonly known as the deer tick. In most cases, early symptoms of Lyme disease begin one or two weeks after a bite and can include fever, fatigue, body aches and headaches.

Another indicator of Lyme disease is the bullseye rash. This rash is identified by a red ring on the skin and develops in 75 percent of people who have been bitten by an infected tick. Dr. Richardson defines the bullseye rash as: “an expanding red circular rash that must reach at least five centimeters in size with or without central clearing, or when the center of the rash appears to be clear.”

To be certain you have Lyme disease, there is a two-step process that medical professionals can administer to determine a diagnosis. It is conducted through a simple blood test, and both steps can be performed using the same sample. The first step uses a procedure called enzyme immunoassay (EIA) or immunofluorescence assay (IFA). If the first test is negative, no further testing is needed. If the first step is positive or unable to be determined, a second step should be performed. The second test is called an immunoblot test. Dr. Richardson says that the test is looking for: “antibodies or substances that your body makes to help fight off infections.” If both test results are positive, it means you are infected with Lyme disease.

While effects of Lyme disease can be debilitating for some, treatments are available. According to Dr. Richardson, “Oral antibiotics are usually sufficient to treat Lyme disease, but for more serious illnesses, intravenous antibiotics may be needed. The most common antibiotic used is doxycycline.”

There are many ways you can ward off ticks this season. When outside, always be sure to use insect repellent, tick-proof your yard, check yourself and others for ticks after being outside and of course, remove a tick as soon as possible if you are bitten.

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