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Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted by the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). Lyme disease may cause symptoms affecting the skin, nervous system, heart and/or joints of an individual. Over 95,000 cases have been reported to the New York State Department of Health since Lyme disease became reportable in 1986.
Who gets Lyme disease?
Lyme disease can affect people of any age. People who spend time in grassy and wooded environments are at an increased risk of exposure. The chances of being bitten by a deer tick are greater during times of the year when ticks are most active. Young deer ticks, called nymphs, are active from mid-May to mid-August and are about the size of poppy seeds. Adult ticks, which are approximately the size of sesame seeds, are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Both nymphs and adults can transmit Lyme disease. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing. Infected deer ticks can be found throughout New York State.
How is Lyme disease transmitted?
Not all deer ticks are infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Ticks can become infected if they feed on small animals that are infected. The disease can be spread when an infected tick bites a person and stays attached for a period of time. In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 hours or more before the bacteria can be transmitted. Lyme disease does not spread from one person to another. Transfer of the bacteria from an infected pregnant woman to the fetus is extremely rare.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
In 60-80 percent of cases, a rash resembling a bull's eye or solid patch, about two inches in diameter, appears and expands around or near the site of the bite. Sometimes, multiple rash sites appear. The early stage of Lyme disease is usually marked by one or more of the following symptoms: chills and fever, headache, fatigue, stiff neck, muscle and/or joint pain, and swollen glands. If Lyme disease is unrecognized or untreated in the early stage, more severe symptoms may occur. As the disease progresses, severe fatigue, a stiff aching neck, and tingling or numbness in the arms and legs, or facial paralysis can occur. The most severe symptoms of Lyme disease may not appear until weeks, months or years after the tick bite. These can include severe headaches, painful arthritis, swelling of the joints, and heart and central nervous system problems.
When do symptoms appear?
Early symptoms usually appear within three to 30 days after the bite of an infected tick.
What is the treatment for Lyme disease?
Early treatment of Lyme disease involves antibiotics and almost always results in a full cure. However, the chances of a complete cure decrease if treatment is delayed.
Although not routinely recommended, taking antibiotics within three days after a tick bite may be beneficial for some persons. This would apply to deer tick bites that occurred in areas where Lyme disease is common and there is evidence that the tick fed for 36 or more hours. In cases like this you should discuss the possibilities with your doctor or licensed health care provider.