"Real Housewives" star Yolanda Foster's struggle with Lyme disease is once again putting a spotlight on the illness. She is searching worldwide for a cure, but unfortunately for her, right now, the best defense is prevention and early identification. Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, and in the vast majority of patients, the treatment is effective. In fact, there is some debate over whether chronic Lyme disease is a true diagnosis, or if patients suffering with pain, fatigue and neurologic symptoms post-treatment have a different disease altogether. Medical professionals do agree Lyme disease can result in debilitating symptoms if left untreated.
Lyme disease was named after the origin of its discovery, Lyme, CT. While those living in the northeast and the Midwest are most at risk, almost every state across the country now has diagnosed cases of Lyme. You are at risk if you live near or visit any locations with a deer population. The more time spent outdoors, especially in wooded or grassy areas, the more at risk you become.
What was once thought to be a small, localized disease, is now known to be a much more prevalent and widespread problem. According to the CDC, 300,000 people in the U.S. are getting Lyme each year and the numbers are growing.
Doctors all over the country need to maintain a high level of suspicion, even in areas not considered Lyme hot spots, because early diagnosis is critical for effective treatment.
Lyme is a result of infection with the bacterium, Borrelia Burgdorferi
There is no evidence Lyme can be transmitted by any other mode
All ticks do not transmit disease
(Photo credit: AP)
Avoid tick bites, especially in areas known to harbor deer ticks.
Stay out of wooded areas or areas with high grasses
When hiking, stick to the trail
Cover as much skin as possible, with loose breathable clothing
Repel ticks with DEET or permethrin. Use according to directions. Adults should apply on children to avoid ingestion or inhalation.For more information on insect repellants, visit the EPA guide
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)
Check for ticks
Infected ticks have to be attached to the skin for 36-48 hours
After coming in from the outdoors, check yourself and your kids
Black legged ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, so the search has to be very thorough
Look in hard to see areas, like the groin, scalp and armpits
Pets cannot transmit disease, but they can bring ticks inside the home. Check them as well.
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)
Look for symptoms
Symptoms of early Lyme disease usually appear within 3 – 30 days after infection and include:
Red, expanding bulls-eye rash starting at the site of the bite
Fever and chills
Muscle and joint aches
Swollen lymph nodes
70-80% of patients will get the trademark Erythema Migrans rash. Because symptoms are vague, being vigilant and aware is key to getting timely treatment
(Photo credit: Getty)
Seek medical help
If you suspect you have Lyme disease, see your doctor immediately.
Diagnosis is best made by history and symptoms.
Blood tests can be a useful adjunct in some cases.
If untreated, the following symptoms can occur:
Rash on other parts of the body
Bell's palsy – paralysis of the facial muscles
Meningitis symptoms including headaches and neck stiffness
Large joint pain
Heart Palpitations and dizziness
(Photo credit: Alamy)
Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-Garden City, speaks during a news conference on Lyme and tick-borne diseases on Wednesday, June 18, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. New York senators are proposing several measures to deal with tick-borne Lyme disease that appears to be spreading across the state. The task force report cites 462 cases reported through the first week of June in New York and a recent federal estimate of 300,000 new cases annually with only a fraction actually reported. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
In a Thursday, June 12, 2014 photo, Samantha Durfey, left, and Christiaan King drag corduroy cloth squares through underbrush to collect ticks during field work at the Pine Bush Preserve in Albany, N.Y.Researchers from Paul Smith's College, the Trudeau Institute and state Health Department have launched a study to document the spread of ticks and Lyme disease into the Adirondacks. (AP Photo/Mary Esch) (AP Photo/Mary Esch)
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As with most things, the best defense is a strong offense. Understand Lyme disease, have a healthy respect for its potential severity and be proactive. When we lived in the city, and assumed we were immune, my three-year-old daughter was infected with Lyme disease while apple picking. Before I saw the rash, I thought I had a child possessed. She was cranky, irritable and generally intolerable. About 10 days after our apple picking day, I was almost relieved when I saw the rash, because I could blame her behavior on something other than bad parenting. I also knew she could be treated effectively with a course of antibiotics. She was back to normal in less than a week.
Parents, always remember kids may not be able to explain what they are feeling. If your gut tells you something isn't right, see your doctor.