By Gilda Morales, ANP, DC
Today’s topic addresses a condition that most healthcare providers only read about but never see, at least in this part of the United States. However, there has already been one case of Lyme disease diagnosed recently, meaning that there is the potential for more to crop up, especially this summer.
Lyme disease is an infection that can potentially affect every organ in the body, transmitted primarily by the deer tick, which is found in the Great Lakes area and in New England. In the west, the blacklegged tick is the culprit. With hotter weather almost upon us, people with dogs and other pets need to be vigilant and take steps to tick-proof their pets and their yards to prevent contracting the disease.
The disease starts with the discovery of a tick attached to the body. If the tick is infected, the chance of contracting Lyme disease increases with the length of time the tick is attached, up to 94% at 96 hours of attachment.
Early signs of the disease include an expanding rash, resembling a target, and flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle aches and body aches. If left untreated, the disease progresses to affect multiple organ systems, especially cardiac, neurologic, and musculoskeletal systems. Even in patients who receive treatment, there may be residual signs and symptoms of arthritis and chronic neurological complaints, with late disease producing recurrent synovitis and tendonitis. More devastating, are the neurological manifestations including slowed thinking and confusion, severe fatigue, headaches, and stroke-like symptoms.
General prevention of Lyme disease is through a common sense approach including making regular “tick checks” of pets and yourself. If one is found, removing it within 36 hours of attachment helps prevent transmission. Use insect repellants containing DEET, or apply permethrin to clothes, shoes or tents if camping. If a tick bite is confirmed, use of antibiotics prophylactically is recommended to prevent Lyme from progressing.
First-line treatment is quite simple—Doxycycline or azithromycin, usually after confirmation through a blood test for the disease.