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Press Release Archive (2016)

Lyme Disease Symptoms & Treatment

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.

Learn more on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Print out the Public Health Lyme Disease Fact Sheet.

Find out more from the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are spread to humans through the bite of tiny, infected ticks (in Massachusetts , by deer ticks). Lyme disease can cause serious joint, heart or central nervous system problems if it is not recognized early in the disease process and treated appropriately.

How common is Lyme disease in Massachusetts ?

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tickborne disease in the United States, accounting for more than 95% of all cases of reported tickborne disease. National statistics on Lyme disease are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

In the United States , the reported incidence of Lyme disease, or number of new cases, is greatest in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and upper-Midwest regions. In 2005, Massachusetts had the fourth highest incidence rate (number of new cases per 100,000 people) of Lyme disease nationwide. The incidence rate of Lyme disease in Massachusetts in 2005 was 36.4 cases per 100,000, which is almost 4 ½ times higher than the 2005 national incidence rate of 7.9 cases per 100,000.

What should I do if I find a tick on me?

The longer a tick remains attached to someone, the greater the chance it will be able to spread a disease-causing germ. Therefore, any attached tick should be removed as soon as possible using a fine-point tweezers. The tick should not be squeezed or twisted, but grasped close to the skin and pulled straight out with steady pressure.

After I remove an attached tick, should I have it tested?

See the "Tick Identification and Testing Services " section

Should I be treated after removing an attached tick?

Although not routinely recommended, taking antibiotics after a tick bite may be beneficial for some persons. If you answer "yes" to the following questions, discuss the possibilities with your health care provider:

  • Can the tick be identified as a deer tick? Review the MDPH to see what ticks look like.
  • Was the tick attached for at least one full day?
  • Has it been less than three days since you removed the tick?

Your health care provider must determine whether the advantages of prescribing antibiotics after a tick bite outweigh the disadvantages.

After I remove an attached tick, what symptoms should I look for?

Whenever someone removes an attached tick from their body, they should watch for the appearance of any type of rash, fever or flu-like symptoms. Immediately seek the advice of a health care provider should any symptoms occur, especially if the tick was attached for more than 24 hours.

How can I prevent diseases spread by ticks?

Ticks generally cling to plants near the ground in brushy, wooded, or grassy places. The edges of woodlands and leaf litter are high risk areas. The ticks, which cannot jump or fly, climb onto animals and people who brush against the plants.

If you cannot avoid areas likely to have ticks, the most important thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick is to check your entire body for ticks after returning indoors and to remove any attached tick as soon as possible. Pay particular attention to areas between the toes, back of the knees, groin, armpits, neck, along the hairline, and behind the ears. Review the MDPH to see what ticks look like.

Apply repellents that contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or permethrin before you go outside to reduce the risk of tick bites. DEET is safe and effective in repelling ticks when used according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Choose a product that will provide sufficient protection for the amount of time you plan to spend outdoors. Product labels often indicate the length of time that someone can expect protection from a product. Repellents should not be used on children less than two months of age.

Permethrin-containing products kill ticks but are not designed to be applied to the skin. Clothing should be treated and allowed to dry in a well-ventilated area prior to wearing. Because permethrin binds very tightly to fabrics, once the fabric is dry, very little of the permethrin gets onto the skin.

You can reduce the number of ticks around your home by keeping your grass cut short and clearing brush. For more tips on preventing tick bites and reducing the number of ticks around your home, review the MDPH brochure Preventing Disease Spread By Ticks.

This information is provided by Epidemiology Program within the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.


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