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4 Ways to Prevent Lyme Disease

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  August 22, 2013 06:52 AM

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Every year about 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme Disease.

That's the latest news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and it's a scary number. It's scary because it's so big--and it's scary because Lyme Disease can cause serious, long-lasting health problems, especially if it's not caught early.

Most of the cases of Lyme are in the Northeast and upper Midwest, spread by the bite of deer ticks and black-legged ticks--so here in Massachusetts, it's something we all need to be aware of. While it's impossible to prevent all cases of Lyme, following these 4 recommendations from the CDC can make a really big difference:

1. Use repellent. Look for repellents that are 20 to 30 percent DEET, as this is the best repellent against ticks, and use them anytime your children are playing in wooded areas, areas with lots of bushes, or areas with high grass or leaf litter. Spray clothes, backpacks and other gear with permethrin (which will stay on through several washings). 

2. Check for ticks daily. This is probably the most important thing you can do. Ticks must be attached for 36-48 hours to transmit the disease, so daily tick checks can go a long way toward preventing the disease. Do a head-to-toe check; ticks can hide in the hair, in the armpits, in the groin, and even inside ears! Check pets and gear too, as ticks can hitch a ride on them.

If you find a tick, don't panic--and don't use a match or vaseline or any of that other stuff. If you find a tick, the important thing is to take it out. Using tweezers, grasp it as close to the skin as you can and pull straight out. If for some reason you can't get the mouth parts out, don't worry--just clean the area. The mouth parts will come out.

3. Shower soon after being outdoors (preferably within 2 hours). This not only can wash away any ticks, but gives you a chance to do that head-to-toe check. Throw any clothes or gear into a hot dryer.

4. Call your doctor if you or someone in your family gets a fever or rash. In 70-80 percent of the cases of Lyme Disease, there is a rash at the site of the tick bite. It's a round, target-like rash that spreads out. Other symptoms of early Lyme include fever, chills, muscle or joint aches and swollen lymph nodes. There are plenty of other causes for these symptoms, but it's always best to be safe and call the doctor. 

To learn more about Lyme disease and its prevention, check out the Lyme page of the CDC website. 

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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