Healthy Living – May 8, 2018

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) – Lyme disease has been increasing in Maine since 1986 and 2017 was another record breaking year with over 1800 cases reported. Although last winter was brutal and it seems like the sun just came out, apparently the ticks have as well; 2018 Lyme disease cases are already being reported.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium (borrelia burgdorfei) that infects some animals. This bacterium is picked up by ticks, specifically deer ticks, when they bite an infected animal. The bacteria don’t affect ticks, but they become vectors (I call them “tick taxis”) that spread the infection to other animals they bite, including humans. Children and older adults are most at risk, though anyone can get infected. Lyme disease has been reported in every county in Maine. In some locations it is estimated half (or more) of deer ticks carry the bacteria.
Most cases of Lyme disease occur in the summer simply because there are lots of ticks and people outside together. Ticks are found commonly in wooded or bushy areas, in high grass, and areas with a lot of leaf litter. The most common symptom of Lyme disease is a distinctive non-painful rash that looks like a bull’s eye. This occurs at the sight of a tick bite – which by the way you may not have noticed. About half of the patients diagnosed with Lyme Disease get this rash, and in areas with a lot of Lyme Disease the rash is enough for diagnosis but he rash won’t appear until 3 to 30 days after the tick bite.
Avoiding tick bites is unquestionably the best protection against getting Lyme Disease (and other diseases spread by ticks). The Maine CDC’s “No Ticks 4 ME” strategy is a good way to remember how to protect yourself:

1. Wear Protective Clothing Outside; long sleeves and long pants that are light in color are the best. In “high tick” areas consider tucking pant legs into socks. You can also buy insect repellent (permethrin) for clothing. Promptly wash exposed clothing in hot water and dry on high heat to kill any ticks that may be present. It’s also a good idea to shower/bathe soon after coming indoors for the day.

2. Use Insect Repellent that contains DEET or picaridin when outside. Outdoor pets also need to be treated with a tick solution.

3. Do Daily Tick Checks of the people and animals in your house. Really! Ticks have to be attached to your skin at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme Disease so even if you get a bite, you can stay safe by removing the tick quickly. If you find a tick, pull it out gently and straightly using tweezers or a tick spoon if available. Wash the bite well, apply antiseptic, and watch the area closely for the next month for signs of the tell-tale rash.

4. Use extra caution in high tick habitats.
Lyme disease is very treatable and getting treatment is very important A simple course of antibiotics is usually all that is needed. However people with Lyme disease who do not get treatment, even if their symptoms were minor, can end up with serious problems such as arthritis, encephalitis, and heart block.
Unfortunately, Lyme disease isn’t the only tick related infection in Maine. Anaplasmosis, Erlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Powassin are also serious infections acquired through ticks, though they are not as common as Lyme. Fortunately using the No Ticks 4 ME guide will help protect you against these diseases as well. The Maine CDC website – and others listed below- have lots of useful resources about Lyme and other diseases, how to identify ticks, what to do if you have a tick bite and much more information that is easy to access. Also, images of Erythema Migrans are easily found on the internet.