What is your worst travel nightmare? Getting lost? Missing a flight? What about contracting Lyme disease? While parasite-borne illnesses may not be at the forefront of your mind, it’s a good idea to take precautions to avoid Lyme Disease when you travel.
During spring and summer seasons, Lyme disease is all too common in vacationers around the world. The CDC is predicting a particularly bad tick season due to the warm winter. And, to make matters worse, these ticks can carry the even more serious Powassan virus. Here’s what you need to know about Lyme disease and its prevention.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infectious disease spread through tick bites. This disease is fairly easy to get and miserable to endure. It has a long string of frustrating and irritating symptoms including fevers, headaches, stiffness, and more. It is also known for affecting travel and making trips especially stressful, robbing your vacation of all the fun you planned to have. Left untreated, it can become a debilitating chronic condition.
What are the Symptoms of Lyme Disease?
The first symptoms are generally noticed after one week. One of the first signs of Lyme disease is a red bullseye-shaped rash encircling the site of the bite. While many people do not develop this rash, it is a classic sign of the disease. Other symptoms include aches and pains, headaches, joint paint, and stiffness. Knee pains are one of the most common complaints among Lyme disease sufferers. Some people even experience problems in their facial nerves, including partial facial paralysis for a short period of time.
The disease also affects energy levels and mental state. It causes victims to feel tired and confused. Many sufferers have trouble remembering personal details, dates, and more. These symptoms can be alleviated fairly quickly with treatment, but victims may feel low energy for months afterward and many have flare-ups in their joints now and then for years after contracting the disease.
How Does Lyme Disease Affect Travel?
If you get Lyme disease while you are traveling, it can affect not only your experience but also your ability to cope with the stress of travel. Lyme disease causes memory lapses and changes in mental state, so tasks as simple as writing your address on a luggage tag can be frustrating. It also makes sitting in a car, train, or plane uncomfortable due to swelling and aching joints. Air travel in particular is known to be stressful when dealing with Lyme disease, as the two put together often lead to panic attacks, emotional instability, and tearfulness. If you are traveling with other people, Lyme disease-induced personality changes, mood swings, and irritability can also affect their travels.
Where is Lyme Disease Common?
Lyme disease is most commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere. In the United States, it occurs most commonly in the Northeast and the western mountain states. The most common time to contract the disease is spring and summer, when the weather is perfect for both ticks and humans to spend lots of time outdoors. Hikers, campers, and hunters are particularly at risk of coming in contact with the disease-carrying ticks.
Ticks that spread the disease are often found on animals such as deer or mice, but they can also be on pets that spend time outdoors. When not feeding on a host, these blood-sucking parasites can be found in long grass, leaves, and wooded areas. The carriers that spread Lyme disease include several types of ticks. The most infamous is the deer tick, since this tick carries the disease in the eastern United States. However, sheep ticks, taiga ticks, and black-legged ticks carry Lyme disease in other parts of the world. These carriers can be found all across North America, Europe, and Asia.
As soon as you believe you may have Lyme disease, seek treatment. In the early stages, antibiotics (such as doxycycline) are helpful. If you get an antibiotic quickly, you’ll be back to your usual health in no time. Chronic Lyme disease is treatable by a longer regiment of antibiotics. Powassan virus, however, currently has no known treatment other than rest and fluids, in hopes that the body can defeat the virus on its own.
How to Avoid Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is one of the easiest diseases to contract outdoors, but it’s also easy to avoid getting if you know how to prevent it. If you’re traveling to an area with Lyme disease this spring or summer, take precautionary measures to protect yourself. If you are traveling to an area with Lyme disease, be cautious if you are touching animals or spending time outdoors. When venturing in areas likely to host ticks, wear clothing that covers you well, especially if you will be in the woods or walking through tall grass. Tucking your pants into your shoes will keep ticks from crawling under your pant legs. If you can, opting for long sleeves and gloves is also an effective way to keep ticks off your skin.
Spraying your skin and clothing with bug spray also helps. The only insect repellent that is effective against ticks is a spray that is at least 20% DEET. Nothing else is strong enough to discourage ticks.
Finally, be sure to check yourself thoroughly for ticks after spending time outdoors. When the ticks attach themselves to a human host, they generally find a warm area of the body, such as the groin or armpit. Keep in mind that ticks are often extremely small, so you need to check carefully. If you have been outdoors with a pet, check the pet as well. You should also shower as soon as possible, as soapy water and a washcloth can wash away these unwelcome six-legged visitors. Often, if a tick crawls onto you, you can remove it before it even bites you.
If the tick does attach itself, you can remove it with tweezers. Be careful not to smash or squeeze the tick. Pulling it by its head slowly but firmly will dislodge it. You will need to apply antiseptic cream to the area once you remove the tick. Also, be sure that the tick dies and is properly disposed of; the last thing you want it to have it move in and make itself at home indoors. Some people seal the dead ticks into a plastic zip-lock bag before throwing it away, while others pinch it in between tape. Although many people save the ticks for testing in case they get sick, this has proved to be ineffective.
Summer travel season is fast approaching and, with it, travelers are more likely to be exposed to tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease and Powassan virus. Take care to avoid Lyme disease when you travel and play outdoors this summer by taking these simple precautions.