Health Break | Published July 6, 2007 | Written by Rich A. Kelley, NREMT-P

Preventing Lyme Disease

Now is the time to get outdoors for the great exercise and fresh air, but watch out for those pesky little ticks and serious illnesses that can be associated with the bite. Keep the following information in mind when out in the woods this summer.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease results from being bitten by a deer tick that is infected with a certain bacterium. It can be treated with antibiotics if diagnosed early enough. However, if left untreated, it can cause severe arthritis, heart problems, and nerve damage.

How do I get Lyme disease?

Ticks are usually found in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas. They attach themselves to people or animals and can then be brought into yards or houses. Once the tick finds a host, it embeds its mouthparts into the host's skin to feed, and if infected, it can pass bacteria into the host's bloodstream.

How do I know if I've been bitten?

Usually a ring or bull's eye-shaped rash will develop at the site of the bite. However, twenty to forty percent of people with Lyme disease don't develop a rash at all. Symptoms of the early stages of the disease include fever or chills, muscle or joint pain, headache, and fatigue.

Often people don't feel the tick bite them, so check your body after being in a tick-infested area. Ticks usually hide in the hairy areas of the body, like the groin, armpit, and scalp. Deer ticks, the ones that carry Lyme disease, are smaller than a sesame seed and very hard to see, so look closely. Dog ticks are larger and easier to see, but they don't carry the disease.

How can I protect myself?

The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. If you are in tick territory, walk in the center of paths to avoid grassy or bushy areas. Make sure to use a bug spray that repels ticks and wear a hat or pull back long hair. Also, tuck in your shirt and tuck your pants into your socks so ticks can't crawl under your clothes.

Check your body and clothes for ticks regularly when you are outdoors. If you have been bitten, remove the tick right away.

How do I remove a tick?

Do not twist, poke at, squash, or burn the tick. Any of these actions may cause the tick to either break and remain lodged in your skin or regurgitate or salivate the infected fluids into your bloodstream.

Do not smother the tick with petroleum jelly, alcohol, or any other substance. This does not work because ticks generally store enough oxygen to continue feeding.

Do not use your fingers to remove the tick or to crush it after removal. This may also lead to infection.
Grab the tick as close to its mouthparts as possible with blunt-tip, fine-point tweezers. Then gently pull the tick straight back. After removal, put the tick in a sealed plastic bag and place it in the trash outside your home.

Rich Kelley is the paramedic coordinator for Prehospital Services Department at Mount Nittany Medical Center. On July 17th, the Prehospital Services Department at Mount Nittany Medical Center will celebrate 20 years of providing emergent care.