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Dr. Robert Silverbrook, RWJMedical Associates

I heard this spring and summer has been particularly bad for ticks. What should I know about Lyme disease?

You may have seen on the news that you needed to be extra aware of ticks this spring and summer. Believe it or not, this is because in 2015 there was an unusual swell of acorns in the Northeast, which then led to a population surge of white-footed mice in 2016. These mice are havens for ticks, with dozens of ticks attaching themselves to one single mouse, feeding on their blood and then picking up the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. As a result, the number of Lyme-carrying ticks increased beginning in April and lasting into the summer months, providing a threat to humans bit by infected ticks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Boreelia burgdorferi and is transmitted through the bite of blacklegged ticks who are infected. Symptoms can include fever, fatigue, a skin rash called erythema migrans, and headache. People are diagnosed based on any present symptoms and the possibility of exposure to ticks. Laboratory testing is available and can be helpful if performed correctly.

It is extremely important to seek medical attention if you think you may have Lyme disease. Left untreated, the infection can spread and cause problems with your heart, joints and nervous system. If caught early, a few weeks of antibiotics can usually successfully treat the infection.

There are precautions you can take that will help you reduce your risk of acquiring Lyme disease.

  • Use an insect repellant when outdoors.
  • Avoid wooded and brushy areas, especially with high grass.
  • Cover exposed skin during hikes if hiking or in wooded areas.
  • Shower immediately after outdoor activities.
  • Add a tick check to your daily routine. When in the shower, check your body thoroughly; including behind the ears, in the armpits and in the groin area.

If you find a tick, get it off as soon as possible. Usually, it takes about 24 hours for the tick to infect a person after it starts biting.

If you follow these preventive tips you can greatly reduce your risk of Lyme disease, and still enjoy your favorite outdoor activities during the spring and summer months.

—Dr. Robert Silverbrook, RWJMedical Associates

This content is intended to encourage a healthy lifestyle. For medical advice and treatment, see a physician. Concerned about your health? Send your questions to askthedoc@rwjbh.org.