What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial disease transmitted by infected ticks. It was first recognized in the
United States in 1975 after a mysterious outbreak of arthritis near Old Lyme, Connecticut.
Since then, reports of Lyme disease have increased dramatically, and the disease has become
an important public health problem.

How does a person get Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an
infected deer tick, which also is known as the
black-legged tick. (Not all ticks carry the
bacterium, and a bite does not always result
in the development of Lyme disease. However,
since it is impossible to tell by sight which ticks
are infected, it is important to avoid tick bites
whenever possible.) Immature deer ticks can
be very small, about the size of the head of a
pin; adult deer ticks are slightly larger. Both
can be infected with and transmit Lyme
disease. Deer ticks acquire the bacteria by
feeding primarily on small mammals infected
with the bacteria, particularly the white-footed
mouse. (Domestic animals can become infected with the Lyme disease bacteria and some may
develop arthritis, e.g., dogs, cattle and horses.)

Deer ticks infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease have been found in Illinois. Areas
in the United States where deer ticks are most frequently infected with Lyme disease are the
northeastern United States (from Massachusetts to Maryland), northern California, and north
central states, especially Minnesota and Wisconsin. However, Lyme disease has been reported
in almost all states in the U.S. as well as in many countries throughout the world.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Signs and symptoms can vary greatly from one person to
another. Symptoms also vary with the length of time a
person has been infected. A ring-like red rash occurs in
about 60 percent of cases and begins three days to 32
days after the bite of an infected tick. The red rash at the
bite site is circular and grows larger over a few days or a
few weeks. In the center, the rash usually clears and has
been described as resembling a bull's-eye. Generally, the
rash is warm to the touch, but not painful. Often this rash
is accompanied by one or more nonspecific symptoms:
fatigue, chills and fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes,
and joint and muscle pain. An allergic reaction to tick
saliva can often occur at the site of the tick bite. Such
allergic reactions, which are not a sign of Lyme disease,
usually occur within hours to a few days after the tick bite,
usually do not expand like the Lyme rash and disappear
within a few days.

Some people are not diagnosed with Lyme disease in its initial stages because early symptoms
are similar to those of more common diseases, such as influenza or mononucleosis, and many
infected persons do not recall a tick bite. Weeks to months or years later other symptoms can
develop if the disease is not diagnosed and treated. These include symptoms of meningitis,
certain heart irregularities, blindness, memory loss, temporary paralysis of certain facial
muscles, pain with numbness or weakness of an arm or leg, and, most commonly, arthritis.

When should I seek a physician's care after a tick bite?
If you experience a bull's-eye rash or any unexplained illness accompanied by fever following a
tick bite, you should consult your physician and explain that you were bitten by a tick.

Can Lyme disease be treated?
Yes. Treatment of Lyme disease consists of administration of the appropriate antibiotics. Oral
antibiotics are usually used; however, intravenous antibiotics may be used if the disease has
gone untreated or is difficult to control. The selection and use of an antibiotic varies depending
on the patient's symptoms and whether or not he or she is treated early in the infection.

How do I avoid getting bitten by a tick?
The best way to protect yourself against Lyme disease and other tickborne illnesses is to avoid
tick bites. This includes avoiding tick-infested areas. However, if you live in or visit wooded
areas or areas with tall grass and weeds, follow these precautions against Lyme disease and
other tickborne diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and tularemia:

  • Wear light-colored, protective clothing—long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, boots or
    sturdy shoes, and a head covering. Tuck trouser cuffs in socks. Tape the area where
    pants and socks meet so ticks cannot crawl under clothing.
  • Apply insect repellant containing DEET primarily to clothes. Apply sparingly to exposed
    skin (except the face). Be sure to wash treated skin after coming indoors. Use repellents
    containing permethrin to treat clothes (especially pants, socks and shoes)—but not skin.
    Always follow label directions; do not misuse or overuse repellents. Always supervise
    children in the use of repellents.
  • Walk in the center of trails so weeds do not brush against you.
  • Check yourself, children and other family members every two to three hours for ticks.
    Most ticks seldom attach quickly and rarely transmit a tickborne disease until they have
    been attached for four or more hours. If your pets spend time outdoors, regularly check
    them for ticks, too.
  • Remove any tick promptly. Do not burn the tick with a match or cover it with petroleum
    jelly. Do not use bare hands. The mouthparts of a tick are shaped like tiny barbs and
    may remain embedded and lead to infection at the bite site if not removed properly. The
    best way to remove a tick is to grasp it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and
    gently, but firmly, pull it straight out. Do not twist or jerk the tick. If tweezers are not
    available, grasp the tick with a piece of tissue or cloth or whatever can be used as a
    barrier between your fingers and the tick. If the mouthparts do break off, consult your
    physician about removing them. If you want to have the tick identified, put it in a small vial
    of rubbing alcohol and contact your local health department for assistance.
  • Wash the bite area and your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and apply an
    antiseptic to the bite site.
  • Make sure the property around your home is unattractive to ticks. Keep your grass
    mowed and keep weeds cut.
From left to right: The deer tick (Ixodes
scapularis) adult female, adult male,
nymph, and larva on a centimeter scale.
Source:
Illinois Department of
Public Health
Erythema migrans is a red
circular patch that appears
usually 3 days to 1 month
after the bite of an infected
tick at the site of the bite.
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How does a person get Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected deer tick, which also is known as
the black-legged tick. (Not all ticks carry the bacterium, and a bite does not always result
in the development of Lyme disease.
When should I seek a physician's care after a tick bite?
If you experience a bull's-eye rash or any unexplained illness accompanied by fever
following a tick bite, you should consult your physician and explain that you were bitten
by a tick.