Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks, wasn’t understood until 1975 when researchers discovered that a high number of children diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis lived in neighboring Connecticut towns near wooded areas. Their symptoms all began in the summer months, the height of tick season.
It was learned that tiny deer ticks infected with a spiral-shaped bacterium or spirochete, later named Borrelia burgdoferi (B. burgdorferi), was responsible for the outbreak. Today we know that Lyme disease is commonly transmitted through a bite from ticks that attach themselves to animals like deer, field mice, raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels and horses. While this disease is commonly found in Northern states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 87 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in Florida in 2013. Unfortunately, researchers believe this condition is severely under-reported.
If you spend any time outdoors during the summer months, it is important to watch for the symptoms of Lyme disease, which include:
* Flu-like symptoms (stiff neck, chills, fever, swollen lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain)
* A large, expanding skin rash around the area of the bite. The most common pattern begins as a small red spot that expands over days or weeks to form a circular, triangular or oval-shaped rash. It may even look like a bull’s-eye, with a red ring surrounding a clear area.
* In more advanced cases, nerve problems and arthritis can occur, especially in the knees.
If you discover a tick on your body, take great care removing it in the following manner:
1. Using fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. (If you twist or jerk the tick, you risk leaving the mouth in the skin.)
2. After the tick comes out, remove any remaining parts with the tweezers. If there is part that will not come out, leave it alone to allow the skin to heal.
3. After removal, thoroughly clean the area of skin and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
4. To dispose of the live tick, submerge it in alcohol, place it in a sealed bag for disposal or flush it down the toilet.
If a fever, rash or any unusual symptoms develop after removing the tick, even weeks later, see your doctor immediately. When treated quickly and appropriately, Lyme disease can most often be controlled. But when left untreated, it can lead to lasting, life-altering conditions.
Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up and accepts most major insurance plans. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at UCFHealth.org, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.