As America slowly and hopefully extricates itself from the coronavirus pandemic, another health concern lies just around the corner: the start of Lyme disease season. To complicate matters, Lyme disease is one of the distinct underlying conditions that make those afflicted more vulnerable for coronavirus complications.
“The warm weather of spring and summer makes everyone want to get outdoors and never more so than this year when so many of us have spent the past 12 months hunkered down in our own homes,” says Judi Tilghman, Ph.D., vice president of technology assessment at Quidel Corporation, the nation’s leading developer of rapid Lyme disease testing. “The key is to be smart in taking steps to avoid getting a tick bite in the first place and then getting tested immediately if you think you may have contracted Lyme.”
Lyme disease afflicts as many as 400,000 Americans every year and can lead to a number of serious, life-threatening problems if not caught early. The challenge is that unlike a mosquito bite where people know immediately if they have been bitten, deer ticks that may carry Lyme disease are tiny—the size of a poppy seed—and symptoms may not appear for two to six weeks. That makes it critically important that anyone who spends time outdoors in heavily wooded areas—hikers, hunters, campers—or travels to such places be particularly vigilant.
Some of the basic symptoms of a Lyme infection—fever, malaise, fatigue, muscle aches and headaches—can resemble COVID-19, which, according to Dr. Tilghman, is “still another reason to get tested if you feel any of these symptoms coming on. The vast majority of patients tested are negative, so getting results quickly with Quidel’s Sofia® 2 Lyme FIA test can provide peace of mind for individuals while also allowing physicians to more rapidly pursue testing and treatment for other diseases that may be causing the patient’s symptoms.”
While Dr. Tilghman acknowledges that a walk in the woods, a return to playing outdoor sports on grassy fields, or camping by a river or lake is an appealing way to relieve stress from the coronavirus lockdown, she warns that such activities do come with the risk of ticks that carry Lyme and other illnesses. For anyone who intends to spend time in wooded/grassy areas during the height of Lyme disease season, she recommends:
- Shower right away as ticks often remain on skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth can remove unattached ticks.
- Check your entire body for ticks, including low-visibility areas such as the groin, underarms and the back of your neck. If you find a tick on your body, use a pair of tweezers to pull it off very gently but firmly.
- Watch for early signs which may include a rash (often shaped like a bullseye), flu-like symptoms, fever, body aches, headache and fatigue.
- Watch for later symptoms, which could appear weeks or months after being bitten. These may include a rash on areas of your body, joint pain, neurological problems, heart problems (such as an irregular heartbeat), eye inflammation, liver inflammation (hepatitis) and severe fatigue.
- Get to a doctor or clinic right away, and ask to be tested if you sense you might have Lyme disease. The innovative Sofia 2 Lyme FIA test is an in-office test that provides indicative results within minutes as opposed to days, which has historically been the norm. Performed in the privacy of a doctor’s office or local clinic, it is also the only test that can get results from a simple finger prick of blood.
The best solution, of course, is to not get a tick bite in the first place; and there are many precautions people can take to lessen the chance of getting bitten. Dr. Tilghman says these include: wearing long pants and shirts, a hat and gloves when in wooded areas; sticking to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass; putting lavender oil or insect repellants on your legs and arms and any bare skin; and tick proofing your yard by clearing brush and leaves and mowing your lawn regularly.