Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transmitted by infected western black-legged ticks. The disease was first described in North America in the 1970s in Lyme, Conn. It has since been reported across the country including most counties in California.
From 1989 to 2006, approximately 2,145 cases were reported in California with the highest number of reported cases occurring in the counties of Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino. Some believe the infection is under reported and that many people are infected and don’t know it.
According to El Dorado County Public Health, over the past five years only five confirmed cases of Lyme disease have been reported in this area.
Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease
Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash that can appear within three to 30 days of being bitten. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical signs such as a rash, and the possibility of exposure because of being in a known tick habitat. 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 tick bites include using a tick or insect repellent; wearing light-colored clothing so ticks are easy to see; wearing long pants and a long-sleeved shirt when hiking and tucking pants into socks or boots and tucking in shirts; and inspecting your body and clothes for signs of ticks after hiking.
Putting clothes in a dryer on high heat can effectively kill ticks.
Animals should also be checked for ticks because they can contract Lyme disease as well.
Because ticks must be attached for 24 to 48 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted, their prompt removal is extremely important. They should be removed using tweezers or a tick remover. Grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick firmly, straight out, away from the skin but do not jerk, twist, or burn the tick. Wash your hands and the bite site with soap and water after the tick is removed and apply an antiseptic. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms within 30 days after a tick bite, see a doctor. If ticks are removed within 24 hours of being attached, the chance of contracting Lyme disease is very low.
Untreated Lyme disease
Untreated, the bacterial may spread from the site of the bite to other parts of the body and can sometimes be accompanied by other kinds of infections.
Potential symptoms of untreated Lyme disease include Bell’s palsy; meningitis; intermittent bouts of arthritis, with severe joint pain; heart palpitations and dizziness; chronic neurological complaints including shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet; fatigue; and problems with short-term memory.
Some of these symptoms may not be due to the infection itself but rather to an autoimmune response, in which a person’s immune system continues to respond, doing damage to the body’s tissues, even after the infection has been cleared.
If you think you have Lyme disease or have additional questions, contact the county public health department. Other resources are the California Department of Public Health at cdph.ca.gov, the Lyme disease.org at lymedisease.org, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov.
For those looking for a support group, the nearest one is the Sierra Foothills Lyme Disease Support Group in Auburn. The group meets at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 1279 High Street, Auburn, the third Tuesday of each month from 7 to 8:30 p.m.