Lyme disease: 7 questions answered about tick-borne infections

Experts are warning that a “tick explosion” will spring into action this summer — which could cause an increase in Lyme disease cases.

High tick activity will be seen in most of the eastern United States, as well as the Midwest, Plains states and West Coast, according to Lyme disease is an infection spread by the bite of ticks that causes more than 300,000 illnesses each year in the United States. It is the most commonly occurring vector-borne disease and the sixth most commonly reported notifiable infectious disease

Here are seven questions answered about Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

1. I’ve been bitten by a tick. Do I have Lyme disease? 

Remove the tick with fine-tipped tweezers. The chances of getting Lyme disease from a bite depends on the type of tick, where you got the bite, and how long it was attached to the body. Many types of ticks bite people in the U.S., but only blacklegged ticks transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks need to be attached for at least 24 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease.

2. Can you get Lyme disease anywhere in the U.S.?

No. In the United States, most infections occur in the following endemic areas:

  • Northeast and mid-Atlantic, from northeastern Virginia to Maine
  • North central states, mostly in Wisconsin and Minnesota
  • West Coast, particularly northern California

3. If I get Lyme disease, will I always have it?

No. Patients treated with antibiotics in the early stages of the infection usually recover rapidly and completely. Most patients who are treated in later stages of the disease also respond well to antibiotics, although some may have suffered long-term damage to the nervous system or joints. It is not uncommon for patients treated for Lyme disease with a recommended 2 to 4 week course of antibiotics to have lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches at the time they finish treatment.

4. How many people get Lyme disease?

Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to CDC by state health departments.

5. What are the signs and symptoms of untreated Lyme disease?

Symptoms include include fever, rash, facial paralysis, and arthritis. Early symptoms vary, including fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes. Later signs and symptoms include severe headaches, neck stiffness, arthritis with severe joint pain, facial palsy, nerve pain, shooting pains, problems with short-term memory.

6. How is it treated?

People treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely. Antibiotics commonly used for oral treatment include doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime axetil. People with certain neurological or cardiac forms of illness may require intravenous treatment with antibiotics such as ceftriaxone or penicillin.

7. What does a blacklegged tick look like? 

Most humans are infected through the bites of immature ticks called nymphs. Nymphs are tiny (less than 2 mm) and difficult to see; they feed during the spring and summer months. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease bacteria, but they are much larger and are more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria. In general, adult ticks are approximately the size of a sesame seed and nymphal ticks are approximately the size of a poppy seed.

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