Westchester Infectious Disease Specialist on Lyme Disease Prevention

Posted on: September 25, 2012

Tick Tock: Time to Watch Out for Lyme

An Interview with Dr. Debra Spicehandler

Heading out for a hike, the last thing you want to think about is getting sick. Unfortunately, anywhere there are deer ticks (blacklegged ticks) there’s a potential that you could contract Lyme disease. Over 16,000 new cases of Lyme are reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Lyme isn’t the only concern, says Debra Spicehandler, MD, an infectious diseases specialist and Co-Chair of the Infection Control Committee at Northern Westchester Hospital. Dr. Spicehandler shares a bit about Lyme disease, what to look out for, and how to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors.

What is Lyme disease? 
It’s a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the U.S. according to the CDC. If you have a tick on you for 24 to 36 hours, there’s a chance that you’ve been infected.

What are the symptoms?
There are three stages to the disease. The first is usually a bull’s eye rash: A clear center around the bite surrounded by a red ring that can keep expanding. You may get a fever and have some headaches, neck pain, or general discomfort. The second stage, usually weeks or months later, can be more severe. Indications may be paralysis or weakness in the face muscles, muscle or joint pain including swelling in the knees, and some cardiac blockage that can cause heart palpitations. The third stage can occur months or years after the initial infection and the symptoms may include muscle and joint pain, joint swelling and arthritis, muscle weakness, numbness, and speech problems.

How is Lyme treated?
In the first stage, two to three weeks of oral antibiotics can be enough to treat the infection. But in stages two and three, a four-week course of intravenous antibiotics may be necessary.

How can I prevent Lyme disease?
The best way is to avoid getting bitten. Wear long-sleeve, light-colored shirts and long pants when you hike. Limit the exposure of bare skin. Use a repellent that contains DEET—sprays and creams that don’t contain DEET don’t work as well.

What if I find a tick on me?
Use a pair of tweezers to remove it—don’t worry if you don’t get all of it. Then pay close attention to the area. Seek medical attention if you develop a rash or have a fever, body aches or headache. If you have Lyme disease, usually you’ll have symptoms. The best news is that the majority of people who get bitten do not sick.