Having a tick attached to your body isn't just getting a little too close to nature. The tick can make you seriously ill with Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Blacklegged ticks carry these bacteria. The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are infected with Lyme disease. You can get the disease if you are bitten by an infected tick, mostly in northeastern states and on the West Coast.
The good news is that usually a tick has to be attached to your body for 24 to 36 hours to infect you. The bad news is that blacklegged ticks are so small they're almost impossible to see. Many people with Lyme disease never even see a tick on their body. But most people bitten by a tick do NOT get Lyme disease.
So, how do you know for sure that you have Lyme disease?
The flu-like symptoms of Lyme disease usually start days or weeks after you've been bitten. You might have Itching all over your body; Chills, fever, and light headedness; Or perhaps a Headache, muscle pain, and a stiff neck.
You'll probably see a "bull's eye" rash on your body. It can get pretty big. After a few weeks, the muscles in your face might feel weak or even paralyzed. Your knees and other joints may swell and hurt. You might even notice your heart skipping some beats. Eventually, your muscles might move strangely, you may feel numbness or tingling, and you may start to have trouble speaking.
A doctor will test your blood for antibodies that are trying to fight the bacteria in your blood. One of these tests is called the ELISA test, and you'll often have a second test called the Western blot test to confirm you have Lyme disease.
To treat Lyme disease, you may need to take antibiotics for up to a month. Pain medicines from the drug store can help soothe your joint stiffness.
If it's caught early, Lyme disease is pretty easily treated. Without treatment, you can have heart, muscle, and even nerve problems. So the next time you're out in the woods or high grass, wear protective clothing, and do check yourself for ticks once you get home.
- Last reviewed on 10/25/2011
- Alan Greene, MD, Author and Practicing Pediatrician; also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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