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Lyme Disease - Signs, Symptoms and Prevention

Nine things you should know to guard against this inflammatory illness that can cause arthritis, neurological, and cardiac disorders.

Lyme Disease

Each year, approximately 25,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Fortunately, with 3.5 cases per 1,000 people, Iowa's incidence of Lyme disease is relatively low.

Still, when not detected and treated early, the unpleasant symptoms of Lyme disease can last for years. Knowing these facts will help you reduce the odds of getting it in the first place:


  1. From April to June, pre-adult ticks (nymphs) are most likely to spread Lyme disease, so be extra vigilant during these months. As nymphs mature toward the end of the summer, they are less likely to spread disease.

  2. Ticks thrive in tall grasses, forested areas, and moist/humid environments. When you are in these areas, wear long-sleeved shirts, tuck pants into high socks or boots, stay on paths or trails, and use insect repellants containing DEET (However, do not use DEET products on children under two months of age). Check for ticks and shower immediately after coming indoors.

  3. Pets often bring ticks indoors – even if they have been treated with a flea and tick preventative. Ticks can jump off your pets and onto your furnishings – or you. Keep your pets out of areas with high grasses and always check them for ticks after they've been outdoors.

  4. To keep ticks out of your yard, keep your grass short, remove leaf litter and brush, store woodpiles off the ground, and clean up the ground around bird feeders. Ticks don't like sunshine, so prune back trees and low-lying bushes.

  5. Most – but not all – ticks are harmless. There are more than a dozen species of ticks in Iowa, but the ones to worry most about are blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks), which can carry Lyme disease. Deer ticks are quite small and can appear to be new “freckles” when attached to the skin.

  6. Ticks most often attach to a person's thigh, arms, underarms, and legs. However, they can attach anywhere on the skin. Be sure to check through hair and clothing as well.

  7. To spread disease, a tick must remain attached at least 24 to 48 hours. A tick that appears swollen likely has been attached long enough.

  8. There's one good way to remove a tick. The CDC recommends using tweezers to carefully grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it straight out. Be careful to not squeeze the tick's body and do not handle ticks with your bare hands. Clean the wound and apply an antiseptic to the bite. Wash your hands.

  9. Folk remedies do not work. Never burn the tick with a match or cover it with petroleum jelly or nail polish. Not only are these methods ineffective, but they can also force the tick to regurgitate its gut contents, which increases the risk that it will transmit disease.

Signs & Symptoms of Lyme Disease

While not everyone experiences the same symptoms of Lyme disease, most people will first experience a rash a few days to a month after being bitten. As the redness expands over a period of days, it begins to resemble a bull's eye – a red center surrounded by a red ring.

If not treated right away, several bull's-eye rashes may appear at various locations on the body in three to five weeks, indicating that the infection has spread into the bloodstream. Other symptoms may include:

  • Mild eye infections
  • Paralysis of the facial muscles (Bell's palsy)
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Abnormal heart rhythm

Symptoms of Lyme disease can last for several years, but tend to resolve on their own. Symptoms seen in late disease can include recurrent arthritis (particularly in the knees and shoulders); impaired mood, sleep or memory; Bell's palsy; pain or tingling in arms and legs; and meningitis and encephalitis.

Antibiotic treatments are very effective in the earliest stages of Lyme disease. If you were bit by a tick and suspect an infection, immediately contact your primary care provider at The Iowa Clinic at 515.875.9000.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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