Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S. and new research shows it’s 10 times more common than previously estimated, with around 300,000 Americans being diagnosed every year. Phil Ponce talks with three experts about the status of the disease. Joining Phil are Michael Vernon, the director of Communicable Disease Control Unit at Cook County Department of Public Health; Dr. Jeff Nelson, a professor of biology and Lyme disease researcher at North Park University; and Dr. Trent Reed, an ER doctor at Loyola Medicine who previously treated Lyme disease in New Jersey.
Read a breakdown of symptoms and prevention below.
Lyme disease is spread through the bites of infected ticks. Most infections result from the bites of immature ticks, which are difficult to see at 2 mm in length and can attach to any part of the human body. Only a minority of tick bites leads to Lyme disease.
Reducing exposure to ticks is the most effective defense against Lyme disease. Here are a few tips:
• Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter
• Repel ticks with DEET or other repellents
• Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors
• If you find a tick attached to your skin, use tick removal devises or fine-tipped tweezers. Then clean the bite area and your hands.
The symptoms of Lyme disease are variable, affecting most often the skin, joints, and nervous system. Early signs include flu-like symptoms and the hallmark of Lyme disease, a rash in a bull’s-eye pattern. Later signs include joint pain and neurological problems.
If treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages, patients with Lyme disease will probably recover fast and completely. A fraction (10-20%) of patients receiving antibiotic treatment may develop post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.