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Overview of Lyme

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Overview of Lyme disease for the teacher

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tickborne disease in Massachusetts and children between the ages of 5-9 have the highest reported rates of Lyme disease (Mass Dept of Public Health, 2013 Surveillance Data). Children can learn how to limit their exposure to deer ticks and thereby reduce their risk of infection. The deer tick, which is very small, carries the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease and other infections. After deer ticks hatch from the egg, they go through three life stages: larvae, nymph, and adult. Nymphs and adults can transmit Lyme disease. Nymphs are only the size of a poppy seed and adults are roughly the size of a sesame seed. Ticks usually live in brushy or wooded areas. They can be active at any time of the year when the temperature is above freezing. Ticks do not jump or fly, but grab onto a potential host that comes into direct contact with them. A tick must be attached to someone for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. Not all ticks have the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Ticks usually get this bacterium by feeding on infected mice.

Early Lyme disease has some noticeable symptoms that occur about 3-30 days after a tick bite. Between 75-90% of people infected with Lyme disease will get an expanding rash that commonly looks like a bull’s eye. They may also experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, or aching muscles.

Lyme disease can be treated. People should contact their doctor if they experience any of the symptoms listed above. Antibiotics can effectively treat Lyme disease. It is important that treatment is begun early. If Lyme disease is not treated early, people may go on to develop more serious joint, heart or nerve problems. The single most important thing that can be done to prevent Lyme disease as well as other diseases spread by ticks is to check your body for ticks everyday after coming in from brushy or wooded areas. Tick bites most often occur in the following areas: armpits, hairline, groin, legs, thighs, or in and behind the ears. Ticks are small, but you can see and sometimes feel them on your skin. Ticks should be removed as soon as possible using a pair of fine point tweezers, grabbing the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pulling straight out with firm and steady pressure. You can also use fingers to remove a tick or scrape the tick off with a special tick removal tool or with the edge of a credit card. The tick should be retained and shown to a medical professional or submitted to a tick identification lab. Alcohol or a hot match should never be used to remove a tick. Other ways to prevent Lyme disease, if areas where ticks usually live can not be avoided, include:

  • Sticking to main pathways or the center of trails when hiking,
  • Wearing long-sleeved light colored shirts and long pants tucked into socks. This helps keep ticks away from your skin and makes them easier to see.
  • Using repellents that contain DEET on exposed skin and/or products that contain permethrin on your clothing. Avoid using repellents with DEET concentrations above 10-15% for children and 30-35% for adults. Higher concentrations of DEET provide protection for a longer duration, but do not provide more protection. Permethin, an insecticide, can be used to pre-treat clothing before going outside. People can reduce the number of ticks around their own home by:
  • Keeping grass cut short
  • Removing leaf litter and brush
  • Pruning low lying bushes to let in more sunlight
  • Using plants around your home that do not attract deer
  • Keeping woodpiles off the ground and away from the home
  • Keeping the plants around stone walls cut short

Remind Your Students: Lyme Disease Prevention Begins With You!

Brigham and Women's Lyme Disease Prevention Program