Could You Have This Summer Sickness?
All Ticks Are Not Equal
There are hundreds of tick types, but Lyme is primarily spread by the Ixodes species (also called black-legged ticks). These blood-sucking parasites live in grassy and wooded areas, including yards where there are shrubs, brush, hanging vines, and woodpiles.
Most people get Lyme in late spring to midsummer, when they brush against grass or brush where ticks cling. Immature ticks (called nymphs), pale tan-colored creatures the size of poppy seeds, attach themselves to small animals such as mice or squirrels -- as well as to humans and pets. A tick can stay attached for as long as a week before it drops off. You may not know you've been bitten because the tiny ticks often hide in the scalp or body folds and the bite doesn't hurt while the tick is feeding.
Mature ticks (the size of sesame seeds) feed on deer and other large animals and are active in October and November. They can also transmit Lyme, but because they're bigger, they're likelier to be found and removed in time.
Other tick species are not thought to transmit Lyme, though they can transmit other illnesses.
If you suspect you've been bitten by an Ixodes tick, see your doctor as soon as possible, since prompt antibiotic treatment almost always eradicates Lyme. (Try to bring the tick with you.)
The first, or early, stage of infection occurs about seven to 14 days after a bite and if left untreated may last for weeks. A bull's-eye rash (Erythema migrans) of about 2 inches or more in diameter, with a central dot surrounded by clear skin and a red ring, is often the first sign. But a Lyme rash can also be an extensive red blotch with no ring. Either rash may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, including fever, stiff neck, and aching muscles and joints. Many people don't get a rash -- or don't notice it, however.
Left untreated, the Lyme bacterium multiplies and is carried by the bloodstream to the joints, heart, and central nervous system, among other areas. This second, "early disseminated" stage, which appears three to eight weeks after the initial bite, can result in heart palpitations, brain swelling, facial paralysis, swollen joints, and other symptoms.
If the first or second stage isn't caught and treated -- or if treatment doesn't eliminate the bacterium -- late-stage Lyme can occur anywhere from months to years after the initial bite. Previously active, vigorous people may develop arthritis, joint swelling, extreme fatigue, depression, or memory loss. They may have seizures or dramatic mood swings, even psychosis. But because not all experts are on the same page about whether their problems are due to Lyme or something else, people suffering from such late symptoms may find it difficult to get help.
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