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Your Pregnancy Matters

What pregnant women need to know about Lyme disease

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Lyme disease is an infection caused by tick bites.

It’s summer, and many women are looking forward to family vacations that might take them to the forests of the northeastern U.S. or the lakes of Minnesota or Wisconsin. Although spending time in nature can be very relaxing, pregnant women should be aware of and take precautions against Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread to people through the bite of an Ixodes tick, the most commonly known of which is the deer tick. When a deer tick bites a small mammal or bird that is infected, it picks up the bacteria. That tick can then attach itself to a human and infect the person with the bacteria.

It typically takes 14 to 21 days after the bite for the infection to occur. Up to 10 percent of people experience no symptoms. However, early symptoms can include:

“Bulls-eye” rash – a central red area surrounded by another ring of red rash

● Solid red rash

● Fatigue

● Headache

● Muscle aches

Get treatment for Lyme disease right away

If you notice the signs above and have been in a region of the country where Lyme disease is common, it’s important to visit your doctor. Undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, Lyme disease can lead to more severe problems, including pregnancy complications, joint pain, migratory rashes, swollen lymph glands, fainting, chest pain, or development of Bell’s palsy, which is drooping on one side of the face due to facial nerve impairment. Even several months after infection with Lyme disease, patients might develop arthritis and chronic fatigue.

Diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on a combination of a patient’s history of potential exposure to ticks, your symptoms, and findings on a physical exam. However, the standard treatment of doxycycline is generally not used during pregnancy because of adverse fetal effects. Instead, pregnant women can take amoxicillin for 14 to 21 days in early stages of Lyme disease. If the disease has progressed and the heart or nervous system is involved, patients likely will be hospitalized for monitoring and intravenous antibiotic therapy.

Prevent tick bites

If you’re planning a trip to a region in the U.S. where ticks are present, follow these precautions to reduce your risk of developing Lyme disease:

● Use an insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET, which is safe during pregnancy

● Treat your clothing (not your skin!) with pyrethrin spray to repel insects

● Wear long-sleeve shirts and pants when you walk in grassy or wooded areas

● Check your body for ticks when returning from the outdoors, and ask for help to examine places you can’t see or touch, such as your back

It takes approximately two hours for a tick to fully attach itself to a human, and infection usually does not occur until 24 hours after attachment. Overall, the risk of developing Lyme disease from a discovered tick bite is low – between 1 and 3 percent. However, early removal of ticks can eliminate the risk of infection. Be sure to remove the entire tick, including segments of leg that might be attached to your skin. 

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