Taking the Bite out of Lyme Disease
Preventing Tick Bites, Early Treatment Reduces Risk
WebMD News Archive
June 11, 2003 -- In less than 20 years, Lyme disease has grown
from only about 500 cases in isolated areas of the U.S. in 1982 to more than
17,000 cases nationwide in 2001. It's now the most common disease spread by
insects in the country.
But a new report in this week's New England Journal of
Medicine suggests that education and simple prevention strategies like
reducing the risk of tick bites, checking for attached ticks, and prompt
antibiotic treatment for existing bites in adults may be the most effective
ways to stop the spread of Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is spread through ticks that carry the bacteria
Borrelia burgdorferi. It may be transmitted to humans when an infected
tick bites a human and remains attached to the skin for more than 36 hours.
Symptoms of Lyme disease, such as a skin rash, body aches, or a mild fever,
usually develop within one to four weeks after infection.
Although Lyme disease is rarely fatal, researchers say
infection should be treated promptly with antibiotics. Otherwise, serious
long-term complications such as loss of movement, memory loss, joint pain, and
skin problems may occur and some complications may be resistant to
Lyme Disease Prevention Strategies
Researchers Edward Hayes, MD, and Josephs Piesman, D.Sc, of the
CDC, say the easiest way to reduce the risk of Lyme disease is to avoid tick
bites in the first place.
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. In North America ticks that
feed on deer (deer ticks) are the most common type of tick associated with Lyme
disease in the Northeast and Midwest. On the Pacific coast, another type of
tick, known as the western black-legged tick, can also carry the disease.
To avoid potentially dangerous tick bites, researchers
- Avoiding tick-infested areas, such as forests where deer are found.
- Using bug repellents on skin and clothing.
- Wearing protective clothing that covers exposed skin and tucking pants into
socks when walking in wooded areas.
- Checking skin regularly for ticks after being outdoors and promptly
removing any ticks attached to the skin.
The report says another way to reduce the risk of tick bites
and Lyme disease is to reduce the number of ticks in residential areas by
implementing one or more of the following tick control measures:
- Applying insecticides to tick-infested habitats once or twice a year.
- Making yards less attractive to ticks by removing leaf litter and creating
dry barriers such as wood chips between lawns and forests or dense
- Consider using bait boxes to kill tick-carrying rodents.
- Consider excluding or removing deer.
Researchers say the risk of serious complications from Lyme
disease may also be reduced through preventive treatment with antibiotics
within 72 hours after a suspicious tick bites -- if the tick was attached for
at least 36 hours, but not less than 36 hours. In children, the safety and
effectiveness of treatment has not been evaluated.