Summer is hands down my favorite season. There are so many things to love- long days, warm nights, barbecues, and trips to the beach, just to name a few. However, one thing I don’t love about summer is the prevalence of ticks. More specifically, deer ticks. Living in Pennsylvania, which boasts one of the highest number of reported Lyme Disease cases in the country, I have a healthy fear of deer ticks in the back of my mind any time I am outside.
I’ve already had Lyme Disease three times. Yes, three times. Those darn little ticks just seem to love me. The first time I had Lyme Disease it went undiagnosed for more than a year, and progressed to the third stage of the disease. At that point, I suffered a variety of symptoms, including extreme fatigue, joint swelling, and some peculiar neurological complaints. During my treatment I underwent a spinal tap, multiple MRI’s, and a two month course of IV antibiotics (this all took place while I was in my senior year of nursing school, which was a real hands on way to learn about how patients feel). I was very fortunate that my insurance company agreed to cover the IV antibiotics (which can be very difficult to get approved) and, while it took more than a year to regain my energy, I made a full recovery without long-term side effects (many others are not so lucky).
I know exactly when I first contracted Lyme Disease. I did not develop a traditional Bulls-Eye rash, but I had found a strange, unexplained bruise on my upper thigh, experienced flu-like symptoms, and eventually had unexplained joint swelling. Unfortunately, the family practice doctor I was seeing at the time completely and repeatedly missed ALL of my symptoms. I was never tested for Lyme Disease until I saw an orthopedic doctor, more than a year after my initial onset of symptoms, for the joint swelling in my knee.
Looking back, I wish I and my family practice doctor had been educated on the early signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease. It would have saved me a lot of pain, time, and energy.
The CDC reports that early symptoms of Lyme Disease include:
- Red, expanding rash called erythema migrans (EM).
- Fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
If you think you may have been bitten by a tick and are experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure to be evaluated for Lyme Disease. You can see a full list of signs and symptoms of Lyme Disease from the CDC here.
Preventing tick bites is far better than treating any stage of Lyme Disease. Typically, ticks must be attached to the skin for 36 hours to transmit the disease and performing a thorough, daily tick check is crucial to preventing transmission of the bacteria. Bath time is a great time to check small children. If you do find a tick, safely extract it and then save it in case your doctor would like to test it.
Other ways to prevent tick bites include:
Avoid areas where ticks are prevalent, such as wooded areas and high grass.
If you have an outdoor pet, check them regularly as they can bring ticks into your home.
Wear bug repellent when engaging in outdoor activities.
Make sure to shower immediately after coming indoors.
Recently, we found two deer ticks on Isaac during his bath time. While I was horrified to see them attached to his skin, I was thankful that we had found them so quickly. Because we thoroughly check him every night, we knew the ticks had been on his skin for less than 24 hours and that there was a very low chance that they transmitted the disease. Fortunately, he never developed any symptoms.
As you enjoy summer and all of its joys, be careful and always check yourself and those you love for ticks!