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VERIFY: Debunking Lyme disease myths

A physician with Spectrum Health said there's a higher number of Lyme disease cases every year. We found out what you need to know.


This is the time of year when ticks are really out to bite.

With some tick bites, comes the threat of Lyme disease, but there’s lots of misinformation out there.

Our VERIFY team visited Spectrum Health, and spoke with Dr. Christina Fahlsing, an infectious disease physician, who said they are seeing a higher number of Lyme disease cases every year. 

We're going to tackle 5 questions on this topic.

 1. Can every type of tick carry Lyme disease? 

“No, only the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, can carry Lyme disease," Dr. Fahlsing said.

These ticks have a brown body and black legs.

2. Will everyone with Lyme disease develop a rash? 

“No," Dr. Fahlsing said. "80 percent of people who contract Lyme disease will have a rash, which leaves 20 to 30 percent of people who won't have a rash."

Keep in mind, you can still develop a rash from a tick bite, and not have Lyme disease.

3. Is it true, a single test for detecting Lyme disease might not be accurate?

“That is correct, yes," Dr. Fahlsing said. "Generally we do a series of two tests, and you have to have both of those tests turn positive.”

4. Can antibiotics completely prevent Lyme disease if you catch it in time? 

“Yes, if you go outside and you get bit by a tick… if you remove it right away, within 24 hours, and it's not engorged with blood, then you're at very low risk of developing Lyme disease," Dr. Fahlsing said. 

If a deer tick was attached to you for longer than a day, go to your doctor right away because they can take preventative action within 72 hours of the bite.

“You can get a dose of antibiotics to prevent you from getting Lyme disease," Dr. Fahlsing said. "If you miss that window, or you’re not the kind of person who likes to go to a doctor and you develop a rash or symptoms, go see your doctor and you can get a course of antibiotics that will completely cure the infection.”

5. Can you catch Lyme disease from people, pets, or food?

“You cannot catch Lyme disease from any of those places," Dr. Fahlsing said. "You can, however, encounter a tick that's been on your pet.”

If you’re wondering -- yes, dogs can get Lyme disease too. So, it’s important to also check your pets, and make sure they’re up to date on flea and tick prevention.

When it comes to protecting yourself, wear boots and long pants if you're in wooded or grassy areas, and use tick repellent. Also realize, not all mosquito repellents deter ticks. 

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