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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Lyme disease prevention can save lives

Anthony L. Komaroff M.D.

DEAR DOCTOR K: A young pop singer who battled Lyme disease was recently on the cover of People magazine. I know it’s silly, but if a celebrity can get a disease, I feel I’m more vulnerable. What should I do to protect myself and my family?

DEAR READER: Lyme disease is a serious illness that can have lasting effects.

Lyme disease is an infection caused by bacteria that live inside insects (primarily deer ticks). When the ticks bite us, the bacteria enter our bodies. Deer ticks are small, about the size of a poppy seed.

The first symptom of Lyme disease is a rash that spreads from the site of the tick bite. The rash looks like a bull’s-eye. Early symptoms can include fever, aches, fatigue, headache and a stiff neck.

In days to weeks after the tick bite, Lyme disease can cause more problems. These include infection of the lining of the brain and spine, irregular heart rhythms, arthritis, and memory problems.

Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics.

In the U.S., Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast and Midwest. If you are in one of these regions:

• Avoid moist, often shady, wooded areas with leaves, low-lying plants and shrubs.

• Stay in the sun.

• Wear light-colored clothing, which makes ticks easier to spot.

• Wear long pants and long sleeves. Tuck your pants inside your socks.

• Apply insect repellent to your skin.

• Thoroughly inspect yourself, your children and your pets after you’ve been out in the woods.

If you spot a tick, remove it. Use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Dispose of the tick by placing it in alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.

If the tick is swollen, or if you develop a rash, see your doctor for treatment. And if you’ve been in an environment that could have exposed you to ticks, and a rash develops, contact your doctor – even if you never saw a tick. Sometimes the tick is gone before you notice the rash that it caused.

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