Ticked Off! Safeguarding Against Our Eight-Legged Foes

Laura Tavarez, M.D.
Family Medicine
Hackensack Meridian Health
Southern Ocean Medical Center

If you’re planning some quality one-on-one time with Mother Nature this year, far away from summer crowds and seasonal traffic, remember those other seasonal residents who’ll be out there waiting.

Researchers have confirmed that blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, found in nine eastern national parks from Virginia to Maine were found to be carrying Lyme disease, as well as a host of other diseases. (To best determine actual risk for visitors, all the ticks were taken from the edges of frequently used trails.)

“This study reminds us of the importance of avoiding tick bites by using insect repellent with 20 percent to 30 percent DEET when in wooded areas,” says Laura Tavarez, M.D., of Southern Ocean Medical Center.

The primary symptom of Lyme disease is a red rash that can appear up to several days after infection - or not at all.

Several days or weeks after a bite from an infected tick, you may have flu-like symptoms, including:

  • Headache

  • Stiff neck

  • Aches and pains in muscles and joints

  • Low-grade fever and chills

  • Fatigue

  • Poor appetite

  • Swollen glands

Weeks to months after the bite, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Neurological symptoms, including inflammation of the nervous system (meningitis) and weakness and paralysis of the facial muscles (Bell palsy)

  • Heart problems, including inflammation problems with heart rate

  • Eye problems, including inflammation (for example, red eye)

Lyme is often misdiagnosed because it mimics the symptoms — fatigue, muscle pain, joint swelling, fever — of many other diseases.

The bottom line? Don’t chance it. Talk to your health care provider if you or a family member is experiencing any of the above symptoms, or other symptoms you suspect may be related to Lyme disease.

And remember before venturing out, the best offense is a strong defense. Practicing prevention and minimizing your risk at the outset is your safest bet against Lyme Disease, adds Dr. Tavarez.  

“You can reduce your risk by walking in the middle of trails and avoiding areas with high grass or brush,” she says.

For more information on Lyme disease symptoms, treatment and prevention, visit the Hackensack Meridian Health Wellness Center.