Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. My brother has Lyme disease. Can you tell me what I need to know about it? I like the way you explain things. Can I get it from him? My mom is a mess. She keeps checking me every time I’m outside. How will I know if I have it?

12-year-old

Mary Jo’s Response: Great questions. Lyme disease is not spread from person to person, so you can’t get it from your brother. It’s not a contagious virus.

Lyme disease is caused by a bite from a tick. There are several types of tiny black-legged ticks, some found on deer or mice that live in the woods or high grass. The bite injects a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi.

Your mom is checking you for the ticks that spread Lyme disease. Ticks are very small … smaller than the sesame seeds found on bagels. It’s important to check for ticks because most children who develop Lyme disease don’t remember being bitten by one.

It can be challenging to diagnose Lyme disease. Symptoms can appear in a few days or even many months after the bite. Here are a few:

  • A rash that looks like a bull’s-eye. There can be a single bull’s-eye, or multiple ones. An image of the rash from the Center for Disease Control can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html. The rash happens in 70% to 80% of those infected, and starts at the site of the tick bite after a delay of three to 30 days. The rash may feel warm to the touch, but is not painful;
  • Fever, fatigue and join aches;
  • Weakness of the facial muscles;
  • Headache;
  • Fainting;
  • Meningitis – swelling of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord if left untreated;
  • Arthritis, if untreated;
  • Carditis, inflammation of the heart, if untreated.

Treatment for Lyme disease involves antibiotics. It is important to seek medical help early. Late Lyme disease is far more difficult to treat. If antibiotics are taken as ordered and Lyme disease is caught early, full recovery is common.

Knowing how to remove a tick is important. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers images to help at https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/index.html/

The CDC recommends:

  • 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, which 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 or soap and water;
  • Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

Attention should be paid to clothing and the body when returning from the outdoors. Check under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, the back of the knees, in and around any hair, between the legs and around the waist. Dogs should be checked for ticks as well.

Remember, you are safe to be near your brother. With proper treatment, your brother will recover well from Lyme disease.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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