The first place to look for tick-borne Lyme disease is at a calendar. If it’s the summer, far from peak flu season, flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and muscle pain are more likely to be Lyme disease.
But it can be difficult to spot signs of the illness, which is carried by a bacterium that infects deer ticks. Lyme disease’s classic bulls-eye rash with clear concentric circles appears in some patients but not everyone.
Look for these symptoms
If the disease is not caught within the first month or so, Lyme disease can cause different symptoms later on, including:
- Additional rashes over the body.
- Joint pain, particularly in the knees.
- Facial palsy (drooping of one or both sides of the face).
- Muscle pain.
- Irregular heartbeat.
The key to preventing Lyme disease is finding ticks and removing them quickly. It takes at least 24 to 36 hours for ticks to transmit the disease to a person. That means if you quickly find and remove a tick, you’re not likely to get Lyme disease.
To remove a tick — which may be hiding in an out-of-the way area like the back of a knee — grasp it near the skin with tweezers and pull gently.
Do not crush
Don’t bother trying to crush a tick. They’re hardy little creatures. Instead, flush it down the toilet or put it in alcohol in a sealed container and throw it away, unless you’d like to keep it for later identification.
If you believe you may have contracted Lyme disease, talk to your doctor. An antibiotic taken by mouth for about two weeks is almost always enough to cure the illness.
Harold P. Kramer, M.D., specializes in family medicine and practices at the Christiana Care Medical Aid Unit at Glasgow, Delaware.