If you're the outdoorsy type — and I don't mean sipping cocktails on your patio — chances are you've come in contact with a tick or two. Blacklegged ticks, also called deer ticks, are the ones to watch out for since they carry the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium, which causes Lyme disease. Seventy to 80 percent of people will develop a rash that looks like a bull's-eye within three to 30 days of being bitten, and other symptoms include severe headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, neck stiffness due to meningitis, joint pain and swelling, and shooting pains. Antibiotics can cure most cases, but some patients will later develop complications, such as Bell's palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face) or other neurological complications, joint pain, or fatigue, when not treated in time.
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Any way you slice it, Lyme disease is not something you want to bring home from a hike or trail run. The best thing you can do is take some simple precautions to prevent those bugs from infecting you, and here's how.
- Stick to the trail: Ticks hang out in moist, humid grassy areas, so you can decrease your exposure by hiking, running, or biking on the clear, dirt trail. Avoid tromping through high grass, piles of leaves, and bushes.
- Sock it to me: Wearing pants is probably not an option when working out in the Summer heat, but you can keep your lower legs protected by wearing socks that cover your shins. It's not exactly the most attractive, but it definitely beats joint pain, dizziness, and a skin rash.
- Go for the chemicals: I'm always a fan of using all-natural products, but when it comes to protecting yourself against ticks, when used properly, DEET is your best bet. Spray small amounts on your clothes, and choose products with low concentrations of DEET for your skin. As soon as you get home, strip down and hit the showers.
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- Know your enemy: While in the shower, it's a good time to do a tick check. Look for a small dark-brown bug with eight legs, and check everywhere including your armpits, inside your belly button, and in your hair. If you discover an embedded tick, remove the tick using fine-tipped tweezers, grabbing the tick as close to its head as possible and washing the affected area of your skin with soap. You can also use a tick-removal tool. If it's removed within 24 hours, your chance of contracting Lyme disease is pretty small.