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Everything You Need to Know About Lyme Disease

If you live in the Northeast or upper Midwest, there's one startling disease you should be on the lookout for this spring and summer: Lyme disease. Residents in these areas could see a boom in tick populations that carry the illness, experts say. They predict a large increase in Lyme disease this year, thanks to a flood of mice that carried the diseased ticks. Here's what you need to know.

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What's Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is primarily transferred by ticks.

Where does Lyme disease come from?

Lyme disease is carried by small ticks that transfer the disease to humans by biting them. They're only about the size of a poppy seed, and they like to hang onto grasses and plants before attaching themselves to humans who, unknowingly, brush up against them. The ticks will burrow in hard-to-see places on the body, like behind the ears, in the armpits, and in the groin area.

Which ticks carry Lyme disease?

If you see a tick, there's no need to panic: Not all ticks carry the disease! The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi are known to hitch rides on Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. However, the Lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum), the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) are not known to be carriers.

What are typical Lyme disease symptoms?

According to Lymedisease.org, Lyme disease can be mistaken for the flu. You may experience a fever, chills, sweat, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, and joint pain. However, the tell-tale sign of Lyme disease is a "bulls-eye" shaped rash.

Early detection and treatment are necessary to ensure that you don't suffer permanent effects. If antibiotics are not administered early enough, Lyme disease attacks the circulatory and nervous system, leading to intense muscle pains, heart irregularity, and cognitive problems.

What does Lyme disease look like?

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Can Lyme disease kill you?

Lyme disease is not generally thought of as a fatal disease. However, if symptoms are left untreated you can die.

Is Lyme disease curable?

A Lyme disease diagnosis is not the end of the world. There are differing schools of thought on the best way to cure Lyme disease, but essentially, the disease should be curable if antibiotics are given to patients early enough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "patients treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover rapidly and completely."

Is Lyme disease contagious?

According to the CDC, Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from person to person. There is also no evidence that you can become infected by eating venison or squirrel meat. They do advise you follow general food safety practices and cook the meat thoroughly.

The CDC does note that pregnant women who contract Lyme disease during pregnancy can infect the placenta and or cause a stillbirth. They note that no negative effects have been found when a pregnant woman receives antibiotics for Lyme disease during her pregnancy.

Can Lyme disease be sexually transmitted?

As far as scientists know, you cannot contract the disease by having sex with someone who is infected.

Is there a Lyme disease test?

It is easy to misdiagnose Lyme disease, so advanced tests do exist if you're willing to spend the extra time and money to see a specialist.

How do you recognize Lyme disease in dogs?

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According to the AKC, symptoms in dogs include: fever; loss of appetite; reduced energy; lameness (can be shifting, intermittent, and recurring); generalized stiffness; discomfort or pain, and swelling of joints.

What are some tips for Lyme disease prevention?

The Mayo Clinic lists a few, simple tricks that will help cut down on potential exposure to diseased ticks.

Lyme disease doesn't have to keep you indoors this spring and summer, but it's something that should be on your mind when you do step outside. Keep you and your family safe by following these guidelines, but don't hesitate to see your doctor if you have any concerns or questions.