Lyme disease is the leading tick-borne disease in the United States. It's most
common in the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, and the northern midwestern states.
Lyme disease is caused by a type of
found in animals like mice and deer. Deer ticks (also called black-legged
ticks) that feed on these animals can then spread the bacteria to people through tick
You probably won't see it happening. Deer ticks are tiny, so it's very hard to
see them. Immature ticks (called "nymphs") are about the size of a poppy
seed. Adult ticks are about the size of a sesame seed.
It's easy to overlook a tick bite. Many people who get Lyme disease don't remember
being bitten. The good news is that most tick bites don't lead to Lyme disease. But
it still helps to know what to watch for.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease can affect different body systems, such as the nervous system, joints,
skin, and heart. The symptoms of Lyme disease are often described as happening in
three stages. Not everyone with Lyme has all of these, though:
A circular rash at the site of the tick bite, typically within 1–2 weeks of infection,
often is the first sign of infection. It's considered typical of Lyme disease, but
many people never get one.
The rash sometimes has a "bull's-eye" appearance, with a central
red spot surrounded by clear skin that is ringed by an expanding red rash. It also
can appear as an growing ring of solid redness. It's usually flat and painless, but
sometimes can be warm to the touch, itchy, scaly, burning, or prickling. The rash
may look and feel very different from one person to the next. It can be harder to
see on people with darker skin tones, where it can look like a bruise. It gets bigger
for a few days to weeks, then goes away on its own. A person also may have flu-like
symptoms such as fever, tiredness, headache, and muscle aches.
Symptoms of the initial illness may go away on their own. But in some people,
the infection spreads to other parts of the body. Symptoms of this stage usually start
several weeks after the tick bite, even in those who didn't have the rash. A person
may feel very tired and unwell, or have more areas of rash that aren't at the site
of the bite.
Lyme disease can affect the heart.
This can lead to an irregular heart rhythm, which can cause dizziness or heart palpitations.
It can also spread to the nervous system, causing facial paralysis (Bell's
palsy) or meningitis.
The last stage of Lyme disease happens if the early stages weren't found or treated.
Symptoms can begin anytime from weeks to years after an infectious tick bite. In
kids and teens, this is almost always in the form of arthritis, with swelling and
tenderness, particularly in the knees or other large joints.
This wide range of symptoms can make Lyme disease hard for doctors to diagnose.
But they can order blood tests to look for signs of the body's reaction to Lyme disease.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
If a tick bites you, call your doctor. Other conditions can cause similar symptoms,
so it's always a good idea to discuss them with your doctor. That way you can get
checked and treated, if needed. Call right away if you get a red-ringed rash, lasting
flu-like symptoms, joint pain or a swollen joint, or facial paralysis.
How Is Lyme Disease Treated?
Doctors usually treat Lyme disease with a 2- to 4-week course of antibiotics. People
whose Lyme disease is diagnosed quickly and treated with antibiotics almost always
have a good outcome. They usually feel back to normal within several weeks of starting
Is Lyme Disease Contagious?
Lyme disease is not contagious, so you can't catch it from another person. But
you can get it more than once from ticks that live on deer, in the woods, or travel
on your pets. So always be cautious, even if you've already had Lyme disease.
Can Lyme Disease Be Prevented?
There's no sure way to avoid getting Lyme disease. But you can minimize your risk.
Be aware of ticks when you're in high-risk areas. If you work outdoors or spend time
gardening, fishing, hunting, or camping, take precautions:
Wear closed shoes or boots, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants. Tuck your pant
legs into your shoes or boots to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs.
Use an insect repellent containing 10% to 30% DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide).
Wear light-colored clothing to help you see ticks more easily.
Keep long hair pulled back or wear a hat for protection.
Don't sit on the ground outside.
Check yourself for ticks regularly — both indoors and outdoors. Wash your clothes
and hair after leaving tick-infested areas.
If you use an insect repellent containing DEET, follow the directions on the product's
label and don't overapply it. Place DEET on shirt collars and sleeves and pant cuffs,
and only use it directly on exposed areas of skin. Be sure to wash it off when you
go back indoors.
No vaccine for Lyme disease is currently on the market in the United States.
How Do I Remove a Tick?
You should know how to remove a tick just in case one lands on you or a friend.
To be safe, remove the tick as soon as possible.
If you find a tick:
Call your doctor, who may want you to save the tick after removal so that the
tick can later be identified as the type that may carry Lyme disease. You can put
the tick in a sealed container to preserve it.
Use tweezers to grasp the tick firmly at its head or mouth, next to your skin.
Pull firmly and steadily on the tick until it lets go of the skin. If part of
the tick stays in your skin, don't worry. It will eventually come out. But call your
doctor if you notice any irritation in the area or symptoms of Lyme disease.
Swab the bite site with alcohol.
Note: Don't use petroleum jelly or a lit match to kill a tick.
They won't get the tick off your skin quickly enough, and may just cause it to burrow
deeper into your skin.