Health Library

Categories > Muscles and Joints > Lyme disease

Look out for Lyme disease

It’s nice enough outside to tend your garden, go hiking or have a picnic. That means it’s Lyme disease season. The inflammatory infection is transmitted by deer ticks, carried by certain deer and mice in the Northeast, Midwest and parts of California and Oregon. Spending more time outdoors, whether in the woods or your own backyard, increases your chances of coming into contact with infected ticks.

Ticks may be as small as poppy seeds, and their bite is painless, so they’re easy to miss. For many people, the first sign that they’ve been bitten is an expanding bull’s-eye-shaped rash radiating from the bite site. Other early symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue and joint pain. See your doctor for diagnosis, which is usually based on symptoms, since blood test results soon after infection are often unreliable.

If you catch the disease early, antibiotics can almost always cure it. When Lyme disease goes undiagnosed for months or years, symptoms worsen, and treatment isn’t always successful, meaning your symptoms can last for years. Undiagnosed patients may experience fever, headaches, facial paralysis, tingling in the extremities, arthritis or short-term memory loss. Antibiotics might not help or may take months or years to rid the body of the disease.

Ticks, begone

Checking yourself for ticks when you come inside is the best way to reduce your risk. Check behind your knees, in your armpits and in your hair. Wearing long, light-colored clothing outside (so dark-colored ticks stand out), using insect repellant containing DEET and avoiding sitting directly on the ground also help. If you find a tick, remove it by grasping it with tweezers and pulling it straight outward. Then keep an eye out for symptoms, like the bull’s-eye rash, and call your doctor if any appear.