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Protecting Yourself From Lyme Disease

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 1997 – Tick season -- spring through early fall -- is in full swing across America and in many foreign countries. Being bitten by an infected tick can result in debilitating, sometimes deadly, Lyme disease, military and civilian experts warn.

Left untreated, Lyme disease can advance from early flu-like symptoms to painful and permanent damage to the joints, according to the National Centers for Disease Control. The disease can also affect the nervous system, causing numbness, pain, stiff neck and severe headache or muscle weakness in the face or limbs. Occasionally, heart irregularities occur.

The first stage of the disease begins three to 31 days after the tick bites. Symptoms can include fatigue, chills and fever, headache, muscle and joint pain or swollen lymph nodes.

Another mark of Lyme disease, researchers said, is a peculiar expanding circular skin rash in the areas where the tick bite occurred. Patch shapes vary depending on location. The rash appears mostly on the thighs, groin, trunk and armpits, and on the faces of children.

As the patch enlarges, the center may clear, giving a ring-like appearance. It may be warm, but isn't usually painful. However, researchers said, some people never develop a rash.

People can pick up ticks during walks in parks or the woods, or while hiking and camping. Children are especially susceptible because they run around in tall grass, play in wooded areas and roll on the ground, researchers noted.

The individual risk of getting Lyme disease is reasonably small. Only about 12 to 15 percent of ticks actually carry the bug. Experts said removing ticks from the body quickly may prevent a person from contracting Lyme disease. Ticks generally must feed on a person for 24 to 48 hours before the person becomes infected.

Lyme disease experts warn field troops not to wear tick and flea collars meant for pets. Cats and dogs don't sweat, but people do, and harmful chemicals can get into the human body through sweat glands.

Named after Lyme, Conn., where it surfaced in 1975, Lyme disease has become one of the fastest-growing vector-borne diseases in the United States. The highest incidence occurs in the Northeast from Massachusetts to Maryland and in Wisconsin, Minnesota, California and Oregon. A vector is a host that passes the disease germ -- the tick, in this case. Researchers at the Armed Forces Pest Management Board note that all military recruit training areas are infested with ticks.

Over the years, a number of service members have been infected in Germany, said CDC officials.

The best way to avoid Lyme disease is to stay away from places where ticks live -- tall grass and weeds, scrubby areas, woods and leaf litter. Another good idea: Check children and pets after they've played outside.

Service members can use a two-part DoD chemical repellent system consisting of a permethrin-based spray for clothing and DEET-based lotion for exposed skin. The repellents should be coupled with proper wearing of the uniform.

If you can't avoid tick-infested areas, CDC experts suggest you wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants, tuck pant legs into socks or boots, tuck shirt into pants, tape area where pants and socks meet to keep ticks out and wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be seen easily.

After being outdoors:

  • Promptly remove and wash clothing;
  • Inspect your body carefully and remove attached ticks with tweezers, grasping as close to the head as possible and gently tugging the tick free without crushing its body. Squeezing the tick's body may force infected fluid into the wound;
  • Place tick in sealed container for examination by a local health department; and
  • Wash the wound and apply an antiseptic.
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