Lyme disease is an illness spread through tick saliva. If an infected tick bites you, bacteria in the saliva enter your bloodstream, increasing your risk of Lyme disease. When there is a delay in treatment, the bacteria may settle into the joints, leading to a special type of Lyme arthritis. In fact, 60% of people who do not receive timely treatment for Lyme disease develop arthritis.
Although Lyme disease may affect many organs, such as the heart and nervous system, joint involvement tends to be the most common and persistent issue. This results in joint swelling and pain. In most, Lyme arthritis resolves after a month of treatment with an oral antibiotic, such as doxycycline or amoxicillin. Individuals with persistent symptoms despite antibiotics usually respond to treatment with an intravenous antibiotic for 30 days. However, about 10% of those with Lyme arthritis fail to respond to antibiotic treatment.
How to Prevent Tick-borne Illness
If you live in an area where Lyme disease is common, some simple steps can minimize the risk of tick bites:
- Avoid scrubby areas with bushes, high grass, and dead leaves, where ticks live.
- When walking in the woods, stick to the center of the trail.
- Tick repellents containing picaridin, IR3535, or 20% DEET will provide several hours of protection to exposed skin.
- Clothing and camping gear can be treated with sprays containing 0.5% permethrin.
- Look at your body in a full-length mirror to help you identify and remove ticks.
- When checking children for ticks, pay special attention to the scalp, ears, shoulder blades, waist, belly button, behind the knees, and between the legs.
- If you find ticks attached to your body, use fine-tipped tweezers to remove them. Grasp them next to the skin and apply steady, gentle pressure. Do not yank or twist the tick, as this may cause its mouth parts to break off and stay embedded in your skin.
- Do not apply nail polish or petroleum jelly to the tick, or try to burn it off.
- Clean the bite site with soap and water, iodine, or rubbing alcohol.
- If you develop a rash at the bite site or feel ill, see a doctor right away.
Without proper treatment, people suffering from joint pain due to Lyme arthritis are putting themselves at risk of permanent joint damage. The main feature of Lyme arthritis is the obvious swelling of one or a few joints. While the knees are affected most often, other large joints such as the shoulder, ankle, elbow, jaw, wrist, and hip can also be involved. The joint may feel warm to the touch or cause pain during movement. Joint swelling can come and go or move between joints, and it may be difficult to detect in the shoulder, hip, or jaw. Lyme arthritis typically develops within one to a few months after infection.
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