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The onset of summer can mean big trouble from a small bug. The deer tick, plentiful along the eastern coast, upper Midwest, and northern California and Oregon coastlines, particularly in brushy and wild areas, is responsible for a disease that is both debilitating and difficult to diagnose. Lyme Disease, contracted through the bite of the deer tick - a small insect about the size of a sesame seed in its adult stage, and a poppy seed in its immature stage - can be both prevented and treated, but being informed and being careful is your best defense against it.

Lyme Disease is actually caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete bacterium carried by the deer tick. Infected ticks transmit the bacterium to animals and humans through their bite. If it is left untreated, the bacterium then makes its way through the bloodstream, infecting various tissues and causing symptoms often mistaken for the flu. In the early stages, within one to two weeks of being bitten, one may (or may not) have a rash surrounding the site of the bite, sometimes resembling a bulls-eye. The rash may be warm to the touch and may or may not itch. At around the same time, the bite victim may also experience flu-like symptoms, including but not limited to, mild fever, fatigue, headache, and arthritis-like aches and pains. If the bacterium continues undetected and unabated, symptoms may become more severe, resulting in complications involving the joints, heart, and nervous system.

Complicating the situation is the fact that Lyme Disease is difficult to diagnose. Although there are tests to detect B. burgdorferi, they rely chiefly on the detection of the antibodies to the bacterium. If antibiotics have been given for the symptoms, resulting in reduced antibody production, the tests are not likely to detect the bacterium even though it is present and responsible for illness. However, once a definitive diagnosis has been made, treatment is by antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Caught early, Lyme Disease can be cured, and even in the later stages, it can be treated. In addition, at present there is one vaccine available (LYMErix) and one (ImuLyme) awaiting FDA
approval. These vaccines are preventative only, thus must be given before infection by the bacterium. Both drugs must be taken in a series of 3 injections over a 12 month period, and neither allows any protection against any other tick-borne illness.

Because infection by the disease-carrying deer tick is the only way to contract the disease, careful attention to detecting and repelling the insect should be given. If you live in a brushy, wild, or forested area, or you plan to camp this summer, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones against the deer tick. Some steps you can take:

** Wear light colored, tightly woven clothes, as these enable you to see the insects more readily.
** Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts if at all possible.
** Wear the legs of pants tucked into light colored socks.
** Wear boots or shoes that allow as little as possible of the foot exposed.
** Wear a hat.
** Spray outerwear with an insect repellent containing DEET.
** Check exposed skin often while outdoors.
** Don’t go barefoot or sit on the ground in the grass.
** At the end of the day do a final check on yourself, kids, and pets.

Your pets are vulnerable to the deer tick also, and you can obtain information about protection for them from your veterinarian.

Remove the tick carefully by following these instructions:

** With precision tweezers, grasp the head or mouth parts of the insect where it has entered the skin. DO NOT GRASP THE BODY OF THE INSECT.
** Keeping hold of the head or mouth parts, pull steadily and firmly straight away from the skin. Take care not to twist the insect. Do not use matches, cigarettes, petroleum jelly, alcohol or another substance to try to remove the insect, as these may possibly cause the insect to regurgitate bacteria into your skin, and that is something you don’t want to have happen, as it increases your chance of being infected.
** Carefully put the tick in a jar or container of alcohol to kill it.
** Clean the bite and follow with disinfectant.

Being careful and practical, knowing the precautionary steps to take, what to do if you are bitten, and the symptoms and signs of Lyme Disease will make your summer plans and outdoor activities much safer. For further information on Lyme Disease, you may write to: American Lyme Disease Foundation, Mill Pond Offices, 293 Route 100, Somers NY 10589.