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LYME DISEASE
What You Need To Know
By Jack M. Bertman, M.D.
Mono County Health Officer


Lyme Disease is a serious problem caused by the bite of a tick that is carrying the infectious organism called Borrelia. These are microscopic unicellular organisms (bacteria) that live in the stomach of ticks and cause several different diseases of which the most prominent is Lyme disease. This disease gets its name from the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was discovered about thirty years ago. Lyme disease pops up in areas where humans interface with wilderness, and a certain type of tick is present. In California these ticks, Ixudes pacificorum, are mostly living west of the Sierras, but occasionally they turn up on our Eastern slopes.

The symptoms of Lyme disease are very wide ranging, and may be quite subtle and easily overlooked. It frequently starts with a rash around the bite area, in the shape of a target or bull's-eye. It appears one or two weeks after the tick bite. About the time the rash appears other symptoms such as fatigue, fever, chills and joint pains are common, but they may be mild enough not to require medical attention - like a mild flu. Later stages of lyme disease occur weeks, months, or occasionally years later. These symptoms can include severe headaches, painful arthritis and swelling of joints, tingling or numbness of the extremities or facial paralysis.

The diagnosis of lyme disease is made on the basis of a tick bite history and symptoms of the disease. There is no reliable blood test for lyme disease. If picked up early, the disease is easily treatable with antibiotics like doxycycline or amoxicillin. For the late stages of the disease a longer course of treatment is sometimes effective, but the earlier the treatment the better. So it is very important to recognize the possibility of lyme disease if you have been bitten by a tick and become ill.

The deer tick or the western black-legged tick, the two kinds of tick that carry the lyme disease bacterium, have not been found in Mono County. However they are present in the central coast area of California, especially around Mendocino, in the upper Midwest and in the northeast. So if you visit those areas you can be exposed. Also it is thought that the tick must be feeding for a while before it transmits the bacterium, probably 24 hours or longer. Therefore, if you check yourself and your partners every day for ticks when you are out in the back country or anywhere you can get exposed, and then remove any ticks you find before they become engorged, you will in all likelihood prevent lyme disease. For sure see your doctor if you think you have been exposed and become ill.
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