I hope that all you Rock Heads are enjoyin’ your new golf season. I know I am. I’m taking a break today from talkin’ about the ins and outs of golf to remind you all of one very important part of spring and summer golf. Consider this a PSA from Scratch. After you’re done with your round and have left the 19th hole for home, give yourself a once over and check for ticks. These nasty little buggers can transmit the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi that causes Lyme disease. These ticks are unfortunately out and about in large numbers and parts of the U.S., such as New England, are experiencing a rise in confirmed cases of Lyme disease.
“Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States, and the incidence is growing rapidly. In 2009, the C.D.C. reported thirty-eight thousand cases, three times more than in 1991. Most researchers agree that the true number of infections is five to ten times higher. Although some of that increase is due to heightened awareness, transmission is rising in areas, like New England, where the disease is well established, and is spreading to regions as far south as Florida, through changes in climate and the movements of infected animals.”
-Michael Specter, The Lyme Wars
What is Lyme disease? It’s an inflammatory disease characterized at first by a rash, headache, fever, and chills, and later by possible arthritis and neurological and cardiac disorders. It can be treated with antibiotics if caught early, but delayed treatment can lead to difficult to treat, serious symptoms. It’s commonly found on the east coast, the west coast, and the upper mid-west. However, cases of Lyme disease have been reported in all U.S. states except Montana.
Lyme disease has what’s called an incubation period. The symptoms won’t show up immediately after you are bitten. When the disease is still in a localized stage and has not spread throughout the body, patients can experience flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes. 80% of cases will also have a bullseye-shaped rash called erythema chronicum migrans(EM). This will develop at the site of the bite within 3 to 30 days. Please note that not all patients develop the rash. Lyme disease can progress to later stages without the rash.
The disease will spread through the body within days or weeks of the localized infection. EM can develop on parts of the body with no relation to the original infection site. The Center for Disease Control states that an array of symptoms can occur at this stage such as
- Facial or Bell’s palsy (loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face)
- Severe headaches and neck stiffness due to meningitis (inflammation of the spinal cord)
- Pain and swelling in the large joints (such as knees)
- Shooting pains that may interfere with sleep
- Heart palpitations and dizziness due to changes in heartbeat
Left untreated, after a few months the disease can progress to a point that is hard to treat and cause severe and chronic symptoms that affect many parts of the body, including the brain, nerves, eyes, joints and heart. The CDC reports,
“Approximately 60% of patients with untreated infection may begin to have intermittent bouts of arthritis, with severe joint pain and swelling… Arthritis caused by Lyme disease manifests differently than other causes of arthritis and must be distinguished from arthralgias (pain, but not swelling, in joints). Up to 5% of untreated patients may develop chronic neurological complaints months to years after infection4. These include shooting pains, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, and problems with short-term memory.”
The Good News
Luckily, there are preventive steps you can take when you hit your local course.
- Don’t go searching for your ball in the woods. It’s not worth it.
- Use repellents that contain 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours.
- Wear long pants. I know it’s hot, but covering your legs can prevent ticks from quickly latching on to exposed skin
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Make sure your check spots such as the armpits, behind the knees, in the bellybutton, and on the scalp.
- Check your gear. Ticks can hitch a ride on clothes and bags then attach to a person later. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
If you do find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. Just grab a pair of tweezers and follow these removal instructions provided by the CDC.
How to remove a tick
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
Don’t try home remedies such as covering the tick with nail polish or Vaseline. You don’t want to wait for the tick to detach. The longer it stays attached to you, the more bacteria can be transferred to you.
The Bottom Line
If you find yourself bitten by a tick, don’t freak out. Not all tick bites result in Lyme disease. Monitor the bite and watch for those early flu-like symptoms. And don’t think you can’t get Lyme disease if you don’t get the bullseye rash. If you are feeling lousy, head to the doctor. The sooner you start treatment, the better your prognosis. If you want more info on Lyme disease, check out the CDC or Mayo Clinic.