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What If I Get Lyme Disease?

Dr. Jessica Heselschwerdt photo
Courtesy photo
Dr. Jessica Heselschwerdt of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine

The Ingham County Health Department recently launched a campaign to spread Lyme disease prevention awareness. They urge the use of insect repellant, proper clothing while hiking, and checking yourself for ticks. But what can happen if you contract Lyme disease?

Dr. Jessica Heselschwerdt of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine says one of the first signs of Lyme disease is an illness that resembles influenza. "You might have headaches, or joint or muscle pain, fevers, and fatigue," Dr. Heselschwerdt explains. "The thing that distinguishes Lyme disease is that it often is accompanied by a rash."

That rash is known as a bullseye or target rash, with a central clearing and a red rim. Sometimes, though, it's just a red spot. "The rash happens in about 80-percent of cases, but sometimes there's really nothing to distinguish it," Dr. Heselschwerdt continues. "It may go on longer than the flu typically does."

A doctor may decide that your symptoms and activity history point to Lyme disease and begin a course of antibiotics. If unsure, there may be blood tests. If cought early, a short course of oral antibiotics may suffice.

If not caught within the first three to 30 days, Dr. Heselschwerdt says the disease may spread in the bloodstream or in the lymphatic system. That can cause problems in other parts of the body, including more severe pain and joint disease, neurological problems like Bell's palsy, or meningitis. In rare cases, there can be cardiac ramifications.

If you find a tick attached to you, Dr. Heselschwerdt recommends going to the doctor quickly. One dose of antibiotics may suffice to prevent Lyme disease.

The Ingham County Health Department has more information about Lyme disease here.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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