Kids love to be outside, exploring wooded areas and crawling through the underbrush. Your little explorers might get some hitchhikers while they’re out, though. Ticks, one of the great outdoors’ less-welcomed inhabitants, can be a pesky problem, particularly during the warmer months.

A Small Bite Could Mean More

Bites from these tiny insects can sometimes transmit Lyme disease or other infections. If you or your children spend time outside, it’s important to regularly check for ticks on skin, clothing, and any belongings that you’ve carried with you. The CDC’s website has great tips on preventing tick bites.  

It’s also important to familiarize yourself with Lyme disease so you can recognize the symptoms when you see them. This is particularly important because treating Lyme at the first onset of symptoms will help to lessen the duration of the disease and possibly reduce future complications.*

*Source: Lyme Disease Treatment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread through the bite of an infected tick. In the U.S., the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii are the cause of Lyme and are transmitted through black-legged ticks, commonly called deer ticks.* 

A deer tick must bite you and stay attached to your skin to transmit the bacteria, which will eventually end up in your bloodstream. Only a small portion of these ticks carry Lyme disease, and infection is unlikely if the tick is attached for less than 36 hours.

Depending on where you live, your region may have many different types of ticks. If you are bitten by a tick, here’s some information to help identify which type of tick may have bitten you. A black-legged (deer) tick is small and brown, and when it is young it can be as small as a poppy seed.

* Source: Lyme Disease. Mayo Clinic.

 

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

  • Rash
    One of the hallmark signs of Lyme disease is a rash, erythema migrans. It is a red, expanding rash with a bulls-eye center. The rash usually begins at the bite, but can appear at more than one place on the body. The rash is not itchy or painful.

    Not having a rash doesn’t necessarily mean that you do not have Lyme. Only about 70-80 percent of people who are infected with Lyme get the rash.*

  • Flu-like symptoms
    These include fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, headache, and painful lymph nodes.

  • Rash
    Erythema migrans may appear on other places on the body.

  • Joint pain
    Joint pain and swelling may happen.

  • Neurological problems
    If left untreated, the infection could possibly cause neurological problems months or years later. Conditions can include meningitis, Bell’s palsy (temporary paralysis of the side of the face), and numbness or weakness in your limbs.

 * Source: Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diagnosing Lyme Disease

When diagnosing Lyme disease, our medical providers will conduct a thorough medical history and a physical exam. If you were bitten by a tick and have symptoms of Lyme disease, write down all the symptoms you’ve noticed before you visit your MedExpress center.

There are also certain laboratory tests that can help confirm a Lyme diagnosis. These tests identify antibodies to the bacteria that spread Lyme. It takes a few weeks for the body to develop these antibodies, though. 

Therefore, if you are infected with Lyme disease, it is not unusual to have negative test results if you are tested too early. Often, your medical team may recommend that you begin an antibiotic even if it is too early for diagnostic testing.  

  • Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test
    This test can determine if there are antibodies to the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Since sometimes there are false-positive results with this test, is it not the only basis for diagnosis. 

  • Western blot test
    Used in conjunction with the ELISA test, the Western blot test looks for antibodies to several proteins of the Borrelia burgdoferi bacteria. 

Treating Lyme Disease

Because Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria, it is treated with antibiotics.