Lyme disease is an inflammatory condition caused by a bite from an infected deer tick. It can produce such diverse symptoms as fever, headache, muscle or joint pain, and fatigue. Often, the first sign of Lyme disease is an expanding bull’s-eye rash at the site of the tick bite.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to 30,000 Americans contract Lyme disease every year. Because mice are important carriers of Lyme disease, and the mouse population has soared recently, environmental experts expect 2017 to be a particularly bad year for Lyme disease. It most commonly occurs in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic states, and the Midwest. Anyone who hikes in these regions is at risk for Lyme disease and would do well to follow these precautions.
• Wear long pants, long sleeves, and long socks. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks so that ticks have fewer points of entry. Light-colored clothing may be less attractive to ticks and makes them easier to spot if they hitch a ride while you’re hiking.
• Use insect repellent. The insect repellent should contain at least 30% N-N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET) or permethrin. Permethrin should not be applied directly to the skin but, rather, should be used on clothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear.
• Walk in the center of trails, avoiding vegetation along the edges.
• After hiking, check your body for ticks. Keep in mind that deer ticks are very small, the size of a pencil point. If you find a tick, remove it right away with fine-tipped tweezers. Gently pull upward to remove the entire tick. (Forget folk remedies you may have heard that involve applying petroleum jelly, peanut butter, nail polish, or a lit match. And despite what you may have been told, don’t twist the body as you pull the tick out.) Once you remove the tick, wash the area completely with soap and water.
• Regardless of whether you actually find a tick, wash your clothes as soon as possible and dry them with high heat to kill any ticks.
If you develop a fever, severe headaches, or a rash within weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. If diagnosed early, Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause more serious problems, affecting the joints, heart, and nervous system. People with untreated Lyme can develop arthritis in their knees, elbows, or wrists that can become chronic.