Summer is Lyme disease season. It’s a disease that afflicts as many as 400,000 Americans every year and can lead to a number of serious, life-threatening problems if not caught early. That is why the nation’s leading developer of rapid Lyme disease testing is urging anyone who thinks they may have Lyme disease to get tested early.

With its abdomen engorged with a host blood meal, this image depicts a lateral, or side view of a female blacklegged, or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis/CDC

“If you sense that you might have Lyme disease, get to your doctor or clinic right away and ask to be tested,” says Judi Tilghman, Ph.D., vice president of technology assessment at Quidel Corporation. “With appropriate antibiotic treatment, most people with Lyme disease recover completely; but the key is catching it early, and that means not hesitating to get tested.”

Unlike a mosquito bite where people know immediately if they have been bitten, Dr. Tilghman says that one of the challenges with Lyme disease is that deer ticks are tiny—the size of a poppy seed—and symptoms may not appear for two to six weeks. That makes it critically important that anyone who spends time outdoors in heavily wooded areas—hikers, hunters, campers—or travel to such places must be particularly vigilant.

In reality, Lyme disease can strike anyone of any age, which is why Dr. Tilghman offers five recommendations for anyone who spends time in wooded/grassy areas or who plays sports on grass during the height of Lyme disease season:

  1. Shower right away. Ticks often remain on skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth might remove unattached ticks.
  2. Check for ticks. After you have spent time outdoors, check your entire body for ticks, including low-visibility areas of the body such as the groin, armpits and the back of your neck. If you find a tick on your body, use a pair of tweezers to pull it off very gently but firmly. Sometimes it takes a couple minutes for ticks to give up and release; so be patient, and don’t pull too hard.
  3. Watch for early signs. While the signs of Lyme disease vary, early warning signs may include a rash (often shaped like a bullseye), flu-like symptoms, fever, body aches, headache and fatigue. Since symptoms such as these are so common, doctors don’t always think of Lyme disease right away, but you should.
  4. Watch for later symptoms. If untreated, new signs of Lyme infection might appear weeks or months after being bitten. These could include a rash on areas of your body, joint pain, neurological problems, heart problems (such as an irregular heartbeat), eye inflammation, liver inflammation (hepatitis) and severe fatigue.
  5. Get to a doctor or clinic. If you sense that you might have Lyme disease, get to your doctor and ask to be tested right away. Leading the way in Lyme disease testing is the innovative Sofia 2 Lyme FIA test. This in-office test provides a patient as well as physicians with indicative results within minutes as opposed to days, which has historically been the norm. Performed in the privacy of a doctor’s office or local clinic, it is also the only test that can get results from a simple finger prick of blood.

“Given that the vast majority of patients tested are negative, getting results quickly can mean discernable peace of mind for individuals,” said Dr. Tilghman. “In addition, not having to wait days for test results allows physicians to more rapidly pursue testing and treatment for other diseases that may be causing the patient’s symptoms.”

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The best solution, of course, is to not get a tick bite in the first place; and there are many precautions people can take to lessen the chance of getting bitten. Dr. Tilghman says these include: wearing long pants and shirts, a hat and gloves when in wooded areas; sticking to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass; putting lavender oil or insect repellants on your legs and arms and any bare skin; and tick-proofing your yard by clearing brush and leaves and mowing your lawn regularly.