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Senior Correspondent

Q. Where are you most likely to get Lyme disease?

The federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the Northeast, the upper Midwest and the West Coast as the places you’re most likely to get Lyme disease. However, Lyme disease is found in many parts of the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. You should check with the health departments in your area.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria spread by bites primarily from deer ticks, which are brown and often no bigger than a pin head. The disease was named for a Connecticut town where it was first recognized in 1975.

Lyme disease can cause fever, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, sore muscles, stiff neck and a skin rash that usually begins where the tick dug in. The rash may start out as a small red spot that can get bigger. A ring within the spot can fade and create a “bull’s eye.” Some people with Lyme disease get many red spots.

If you don’t treat Lyme disease, it can spread to the heart, joints and the nervous system. Patients with late Lyme disease can suffer permanent damage. If Lyme disease spreads to the heart, the person may feel an irregular or slow heartbeat. The disease is rarely fatal.

Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. In most cases of early Lyme disease, two to four weeks of oral antibiotics kill the bacteria. If the disease has progressed, your doctor may recommend an intravenous antibiotic for two to four weeks. This IV treatment is usually effective, although it may take some time to recover.

Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed. The disease’s symptoms are shared with other conditions such as viral infections, joint disorders, muscle pain (fibromyalgia), chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.

There is no human vaccine for Lyme disease available. There was a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1998. It was pulled from the market in 2002.

The CDC reports that there are more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease each year. Most cases are reported in the summer when people are outdoors and ticks are most active.

Only a minority of deer tick bites lead to Lyme disease. The longer the tick remains attached to your skin, the greater your risk of contracting the disease. You aren't likely to get Lyme disease if the tick has been attached to your skin for less than 48 hours.

To remove a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers. Grab the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull in a steady upward motion until the tick comes out. Then apply an antiseptic to the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water. Save the tick for possible identification by a doctor

The best method of fighting Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. The following are some recommendations:

  • When you go into the woods, wear light-colored pants and long-sleeve shirts, shoes (no sandals) and a hat. Tuck pant legs into socks or shoes, and tuck shirts into pants. Light-colored garments are better for locating ticks.
  • Stay on trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass.
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET or permethrin.
  • After you spend time outdoors, check for ticks. Then wash and dry clothing at high temperatures.

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