Lyme Disease and its Lingering Effects
By: Kristin Shives
TRICARE Management Activity
Working or playing outside is a healthy way to enjoy the seasons, but TRICARE wants beneficiaries to be aware of potential tick exposure that could lead to Lyme disease. Knowing the risk factors for Lyme disease can help beneficiaries take precautions to avoid contact with ticks.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, and is spread through the bite of an infected tick, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s carried by blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, that get it when they bit infected mice or deer. People are at a greater risk to ticks when doing outdoor activities like gardening, hunting and hiking. Another exposure to ticks can come from pets carrying them. Lyme disease is found in northeastern states from Virginia to Maine, north-central states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the West Coast in Northern California.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are three stages of Lyme disease. Stage one is called “early localized,” meaning the infection is not wide spread throughout the body. Symptoms can include body-wide itching, chills, fever, ill-feeling, headache, fainting spells, muscle pain and stiff neck. The CDC says the most common symptom in stage one is a red, expanding rash called erythema migrans (EM), also known as the “bull’s eye,” a flat slightly raised red spot at the site of the tick bite.
If untreated, stage two of Lyme disease, also known as “early disseminated”, can occur days to weeks to months after the initial bite. Symptoms can include the inability to move some facial muscles, muscle pain, swelling in the knees or large joints and heart problems. Stage three of Lyme disease, called “late disseminated”, can occur months to years after the infection when untreated. Most common symptoms during this stage are muscle and joint pain which can be severe.
Diagnosing Lyme disease is based on a combination of signs and symptoms and a history of exposure to ticks. Blood tests can check for antibodies to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. A short dose of antibiotics are available for people who’ve been bitten by a tick. People diagnosed with Lyme disease are given a two to four week course of antibiotic treatment. Over the counter medicines, such as ibuprofen, are prescribed to relieve joint stiffness. When diagnosed early antibiotics can cure Lyme disease, but left untreated the disease can spread to the brain, heart and joints.
Taking precautions is the best way to prevent direct contact with ticks. Be mindful of wooded areas, leaf litter, bushy areas and higher grasses. Walk in the center of trails and always check exposed skin, clothing and pets after a walk or hike. Remember to spray skin and clothing with insect repellant before venturing outdoors.
To learn more on Lyme disease go to www.cdc.gov/lyme or the National Health Institutes at http://health.nih.gov/topic/LymeDisease. For more health care information from TRICARE visit www.tricare.mil/coveredservices.