A recent newspaper article on the early appearance of ticks specifically mentioned one confirmed case of Lyme disease in Kansas this year. Reading this article reminded me of my own family’s experiences with this disease.
When our children were young we lived in Wilton, Connecticut — an area where Lyme disease is an epidemic, and not far from Lyme, Connecticut, where the first cases were reported back in 1977. We became far too familiar with this rampant and often hard to diagnose disease.
While at a family reunion in New Hampshire one summer, my husband developed a very high fever, chills, and after several days, Bell’s (facial) palsy. At a small regional hospital, we were seen by an ER physician who thankfully had recently visited his in-laws in Connecticut. After examining my husband and suspecting Lyme disease, he ordered a spinal tap which confirmed the disease. In fact, his “titer” count was three times the threshold level, indicating it had attacked his central nervous system. Treatment consisted of daily intravenous Rocephine injections for 6 weeks. He recovered completely with no side effects.
Living in Connecticut, we were well aware of the causes of and ways to prevent this disease and, despite our vigilance, we were still exposed. During the next several years before moving from Connecticut, my husband, two sons and I all had Lyme disease with the more typical symptom of a red, expanding rash, containing a bull’s eye center. Treatment for these less severe cases consisted of oral antibiotics for several weeks.
Black legged ticks (or deer ticks) carry the Lyme bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and most people are bitten by nymphs (immature) ticks during the spring and summer. These tiny ticks need to be attached for more than 24 hours in order to transfer the disease. As a result, I conducted tick checks on each of my kids nightly at bath time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should take the following measures to avoid tick bites:
- Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walk in the center of trails.
- Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions.
- Wear light colored clothing (to spot the ticks easily), long sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Create a “tick barrier” by tucking pants into socks and shirt into pants.
- Check clothing and skin very carefully after being outdoors in tick infested areas.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawly on you.
- Keep your lawn mowed, cut overgrown brush, and clear any leaf litter away from the home.
- Inspect pets daily and remove any ticks found.
Although Lyme disease is just beginning to pop up in Kansas, be aware this summer as you travel into areas known to have Lyme disease , particularly eastward to Missouri and beyond. Roberta Loeffler, MD, a hospitalist with Via Christi hospitals, reported that 55-60 in patients were tested for Lyme disease in the last year with no patients identified as having active infection.
“This isn’t really surprising in light of the statewide incidence of Lyme disease of roughly 10 cases a year”, said Dr. Loeffler. “However, tick-borne infections are always on our minds.”
She recommends you see your physician if you’ve been to areas known for ticks and you exhibit some of these symptoms during the summer months:
- Rash at the site of a tick bite, which gets bigger over time. They can appear up to a month after tick exposure (if exposure known).
- Flu-like symptoms with or without a rash, including headache, stiff neck, fever and chills, muscle and joint pain and swollen lymph nodes.
- Paralysis of the facial nerves (Bell’s palsy).
- Pain, weakness or numbness in the arms or legs.
- Recurring headaches or fainting.