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Every year, more than 16,000 Americans are infected with Lyme disease, a disease spread by deer ticks that carry the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Discovered in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, Lyme disease can be found throughout the United States and even into Europe. Ticks themselves are infected with the disease after feeding on deer and mice. Ticks can also easily bite people as they’re walking through grass, and pets are known to carry deer ticks into the household.

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Check out what a deer tick really looks like! Placed next to a belt buckle you can see how tiny they really are!

Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose because few people remember even being bitten by a tick, while lab testing has accrued false test results. People with Lyme disease have been misdiagnosed with other neural illnesses, like Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even Multiple Sclerosis. The Time for Lyme organization is working to fund more research on Lyme disease.  Currently, researchers are working to more easily determine Lyme disease from other neurological diseases to avoid wrong diagnoses and improve patient health.

Most people develop a red “bull’s eye” shaped rash, also known as erythema migrans, generally located around the legs or buttocks.  The rash is very distinctive, with pale skin surrounded by a red circular rash. Even this can cause problems with diagnosis, because around 20 percent of people with Lyme disease don’t even get the rash. Other Lyme disease sufferers can experience flulike symptoms—especially fever, chill, and fatigue. Others suffer from joint pain, stiff neck, facial paralysis, heart problems, and other physical problems.

Early stage Lyme disease is often treatable by a regimen of antibiotics. In June, Massachusetts passed a law allowing physicians to treat Lyme disease with extended aggressive treatment, protecting them from regulatory bodies and allowing patients to get the treatment they need. Many Lyme disease patients feel that long term, aggressive treatment is more effective in combating the illness. Opponents, including some physicians’ groups, argue that such prolonged use of strong antibiotics may be detrimental to patients’ health in the long run. Connecticut passed a similar law back in 2009.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Lyme disease.  Deer ticks are most visible from May to July, so take extra precautions during this time period.. There are several simple steps you can take to avoid both ticks and infection. Remember, not every tick carries Lyme disease, although it is important to remain vigilant. If you can, try to avoid grassy areas where deer ticks may lurk. If you have to enter woody, grassy areas, wear long pants and tuck them into your shoes to protect skin from ticks.  Plus, make sure you utilize tick repellent (with 20 to 30 percent DEET) to maximize your protection.  You should not use tick repellent on young children.

Check your body after going outside, and if you do find a tick on your body, remember that it takes 24 hours for a tick to infect you with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, so you can safely remove it with tweezers.  Still, if you have been bitten by a tick, make sure to consult a doctor.

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