May is nationally recognized as Lyme Disease Awareness month. The months of May through late fall traditionally have the highest rates of infection. Typically thought of as an East Coast illness, Lyme disease is actually found throughout the entire country. At 300,000 new cases a year, per the CDC, Lyme disease is the No. 1 vector-borne illness in the country.
It is becoming prevalent in the Pacific Northwest, namely the Oregon and California coasts and in the Sierras. Placer County Department of Health and Human Services have been dealing with an outbreak of Lyme disease in recent years and have in fact reported Lyme cases during the 2012 winter months due to a warmer than usual season.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection one can get from the bite of an infected deer tick. Not only are deer ticks found on mammals such as deer, mice and squirrels but within their primary habitats such as tall grassy areas, forested areas and on fallen trees where they await passing animals on which to feed. Although this sounds rather gruesome, it is how they survive. It is important to understand that not all ticks carry infections, however it is imperative to know that some ticks are infected with not only Lyme disease but with other infectious diseases. I am one of several people who live in Carson Valley who have contracted Lyme disease here. During my years of ongoing treatment, I have learned many things about my illness. The most important being the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease and its prevention. The classic and most well-known sign of Lyme is a bull’s-eye rash (it looks like a red target). Only about 40 percent of those infected with Lyme actually get this rash. Others may have the rash, but may not notice it if it is in an area such as on top of the head or behind the knee. Initially, Lyme first feels like a very bad flu.
Fevers, severe muscle and joint pain and swelling may occur. Muscle twitching, heart palpitations, rashes, dizziness and confusion are among many other symptoms. As it progresses, the symptoms become numerous and ever-changing. Lyme disease has been given the nickname “The Great Imitator” due to it’s ability to cause varying symptoms. Prevention is quite basic. Wear bug repellent that contains DEET. Stay on trailheads. Do not wear shorts while out hiking. Tuck pants into your socks. Spray clothing cuff areas with bug repellent. Wash hiking clothes as soon as possible. Make sure to look for ticks immediately, and up to several days after outdoor activities in known tick habitats. If you find a tick on your body, get tweezers and grasp the tick at it’s mouth and pull the tick straight out; do not use your fingers or oils to remove. See your doctor if you suspect infection. Remember, not all ticks harbor infections, but it’s prudent to act as if they do.