Each summer the Garrett County Health Department sees a spike in human Lyme disease infections. Most local Lyme disease cases are caused by a bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) which is spread to humans from the bite of an infected black-legged tick, also known as a deer tick.
Lyme disease can cause a skin rash, sometimes (but not always) in the shape of a bulls-eye, fatigue, headaches, fevers, swollen joints, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. Since a tick or a tick bite is not always noticed on one’s body, Lyme is often under-diagnosed. More serious manifestations such as irregular heart rhythm, facial nerve paralysis, liver inflammation, and even a brain infection can occur, but are rare. Most people recover with early antibiotic treatment but some can struggle with a long-term chronic Lyme infection that can be debilitating.
In order for a person to become infected with Lyme, the tick needs to be attached for 36 to 48 hours and not all tick bites will cause Lyme disease. Persons at risk for tick bites are those who spend time in the woods and grassy areas, which are abundant in Garrett County, but all of Maryland is considered an at risk area for Lyme disease.
Prevention is key because there is currently have no human vaccine. There is vaccine for pets (check with your veterinarian). The best way to prevent Lyme infection is to avoid areas where ticks live, such as heavily wooded areas and grassy, bushy areas. Wear long sleeves, long pants tucked into socks, and a hat. Apply insect repellant with at least a 20% concentration of DEET. Consider applying the insecticide permethrin to clothing or buying clothes that are pre-treated. Keep yards free of brush, leaves, and tall grass, and stack wood in dry, sunny areas.
Carefully inspect yourself and your pets for ticks, because deer ticks can be as small as the head of a pin. Taking a shower immediately after being in a tick environment is also a good way to look for ticks. If an attached tick is found, gently grasp it near its head or mouth with tweezers or a tick removal device. Do not squeeze or crush it, but pull carefully and steadily. Dispose of the tick in a toilet, or put it in rubbing alcohol. Apply antiseptic to the bite area.
If you think you have been bitten by a tick, or have signs and symptoms of Lyme, consult your doctor right away. Antibiotic treatment is most effective if started early.