There are hundreds of thousands of cases of Lyme disease reported each year. According to Marla Ahlgrimm, that number could be much higher as many people mistake its symptoms for other conditions. Here, the Wisconsin-based women’s healthcare expert and retired pharmacist answers a few common questions about ticks and Lyme disease.
Q: What are ticks?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Ticks are a small eight-legged insects found throughout the United States. The most dangerous are Brown deer ticks, which are about the size of a match head and inhabit wooded in grassy areas. Black-legged ticks are approximately the same size and are also known to transmit Lyme disease.
Q: How do ticks transmit Lyme disease?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The only way to transmit Lyme disease is through biting. Typically, ticks will attach to moist or hairy areas of the body and will latch on with tiny fang-like teeth. If removed immediately, there is likely no danger of Lyme disease. However, ticks remaining on the body for more than 36 hours may transfer the bacteria.
Q: Why is Lyme disease so difficult to diagnose?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Lyme disease has been dubbed “the great imitator” as symptoms throughout the disease closely mimic other issues. One telltale sign of Lyme disease is a bull’s-eye rash that surrounds the site of the bite. If this rash does not appear, the almost inevitable fever, muscle aches, fatigue, joint pain, and chills may lead to a flu diagnosis. As Lyme disease progresses, it can spread throughout the body and cause major damage, including chronic joint inflammation, cognitive defects, and heart rhythm irregularities.
Q: Is it possible to prevent contracting Lyme disease?
Marla Ahlgrimm: There is only one foolproof way to prevent the disease and that is to avoid being bitten. However, since outdoor time is important, always wear long sleeves, pants, and boots when hiking and check for ticks after being outdoors for any length of time.