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4 Things About Lyme Disease You’ll Wish You Knew Sooner

There were 987 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2016. Find out what you can do to prevent and treat Lyme disease, and the signs you should watch out for.

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Tick carrying Lyme diseasePhoto: Shutterstock

1. You found a tick. Now what?

It’s important to start by removing the tick. Then, place it in a sealed container so that you can submit it for testing. Visit canada.ca and click “Removing and submitting ticks for testing” to find instructions on what you need to do before contacting your local public health unit. Testing won’t help with your own diagnosis, but it will inform surveillance of where ticks and Lyme disease are spreading.

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2. How to get diagnosed

If you have Lyme disease symptoms and have been bitten by a tick or visited an area where Lyme carriers live, your doctor may diagnose you with the illness. There is a blood test that can confirm a Lyme infection, but because it takes four to six weeks for evidence of the bacteria to show up in your blood, physicians won’t wait if there are other signs of the illness.

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3. Treating Lyme disease

When you’re diagnosed, a doctor will prescribe the antibiotic doxycycline for 10 to 21 days to kill off the bacteria. “It’s a very effective treatment,” says Mary Southall, a public health nurse on the communicable disease team at KFL&A Public Health in Kingston. But, she says, if you continue to have symptoms after that, follow up with your doctor. If you’ve just been bitten by a tick in an area where Lyme is endemic and believe the carrier has been attached for at least 24 to 36 hours, see your doctor even before you show signs of illness. Your doctor may prescribe 200 milligrams of doxycycline as a preventive measure.

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4. Living with Lyme disease

Typically, if Lyme is caught and treated early, patients will recover fully. But if you miss the initial signs, the disease can progress for months after the initial bite and bring on symptoms such as headaches, weakness and fatigue. When the illness remains untreated, the resulting inflammation can lead to extreme fatigue, arthritis and long-term neurological problems, including palsy, says Southall. There were 987 cases of Lyme disease reported in Canada in 2016, up from 144 in 2009.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada