Lyme Disease Awareness Month
May 23, 2014

Lyme Disease Awareness Month

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Many people do not really know or understand Lyme’s Disease, so let’s take a look at it. First of all, what is Lyme disease? Well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.” It is also the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe. Those who live or spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas are more likely to contract the disease than others. Specifically, the CDC identifies three main areas in the US: northeast from Virginia to Main, North-central states, mostly Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the West Coast, particularly California.

As the Mayo Clinic explains, symptoms of Lyme disease include the following:

Early Symptoms:

  • Rash. A small, red bump may appear at the site of the tick bite. This small bump is normal after a tick bite and doesn’t indicate Lyme disease. However, over the next few days, the redness may expand forming a rash in a bull’seye pattern, with a red outer ring surrounding a clear area. The rash, called erythema migrans, is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease. Some people develop this rash at more than one place on their bodies.
  • Flu-like symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.

Later Symptoms:

  • Joint pain. You may develop bouts of severe joint pain and swelling. Your knees are especially likely to be affected, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
  • Neurological problems. Weeks, months or even years after you were infected, you may experience inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of one side of your face (Bell’s palsy), numbness or weakness in your limbs, and impaired muscle movement.

Other Symptoms:

  • Heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat. Heart problems rarely last more than a few days or weeks.
  • Eye inflammation.
  • Liver inflammation (hepatitis).
  • Severe fatigue.

If you notice any combination of these or find a tick biting on your body, go to your doctor as soon as possible.

Recently, redOrbit published a science article about Lyme Disease in hopes of spreading more awareness. The article listed 10 questions that many have about Lyme Disease but perhaps have not had the opportunity to ask. These 10 questions include the following:

1) What have we learned about how Lyme disease is transmitted?

2) The list of illnesses spread by blacklegged ticks seems to increase each year. What’s going on?

3) How do small mammals play a part?

4) How are predators like foxes protecting us against diseases such as Lyme?

5) How is climate change influencing the spread of tick-borne illnesses?

6) Why are we more likely to contract Lyme disease in fragmented forests?

7) Aren’t mice affected by ticks?

8) Why are ecological studies essential to understanding emerging infectious diseases?

9) What precautions might be wise for people wishing to spend time outside?

10) Does this mean that we should stay inside so we don’t risk becoming infected?

Though each of these questions is important to understanding the science behind Lyme Disease, there are a few that I want to include in this blog article to help give people a better scientific understanding. Let’s look at these:

3) How do small mammals play a part?

As redOrbit says, “Mice, chipmunks and shrews play a major role in infecting blacklegged ticks with the pathogens that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. Ticks feeding on these animals can acquire two or even all three pathogens from a single bloodmeal.”

This means from one small animal a tick can be infected with more than one pathogen, so if that tick bites a human, the human will be co-infected. Co-infection can complicated everything from diagnosis to treatments and possible outcomes.

4) How are predators like foxes protecting us against diseases such as Lyme?

Because some predators, like the fox, regulate the small mammal populations, they also help humans by protecting them from potential infection. The research shows that where there are red foxes, the human population is less likely to be infected with Lyme Disease.

9) What precautions might be wise for people wishing to spend time outside?

Using tick repellents on skin and clothes helps to prevent ticks biting us. Focus on shoes and socks as most often ticks climb up. Furthermore, people who will spend time outdoors in places where ticks are prevalent should also know the early symptoms of Lyme Disease: rash, flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, and muscle aches. Also knowing where the heaviest potential for Lyme Disease will help people to be more aware. The Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Upper Midwest currently are the heaviest zones. If any of the symptoms occur between May and July, people need to go to their doctors.

The other questions are definitely important, so I suggest that readers check out the redOrbit article. The last thing I would like to end with is question 10: Does this mean that we should stay inside so we don’t risk becoming affected? No. We cannot avoid all risks ever, and the likelihood of being infected with Lyme Disease is very low. And for those who take precautions, it is even lower. The threat of infectious diseases is always around us, which is why education and understanding are so important.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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