Not only has this year's unseasonably warm winter left us with worse allergies and predictions of a buggier spring, experts warn it also may be setting the stage for for a more-serious-than-usual tick season -- and that means the number of cases of Lyme disease could spike.
Spread to humans via a bite from an infected tick, Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Symptoms can masquerade as those of the flu, according to the CDC, or be hardly noticeable at all, physician, author and HuffPost blogger Leo Galland, M.D., writes.
A bite can result in a red, expanding rash that looks like a bull's eye -- but doesn't always. Some people may only notice a change in their mood or a general feeling of fatigue. Doctors perform lab tests to try to accureately diagnose Lyme disease, although they may not always be 100-percent reliable, Galland writes.
If Lyme disease is diagnosed and treated quickly with antibiotics, most people recover fully and quickly, according to the CDC. But 10 to 20 percent of people have persistent symptoms after antibiotic treatment.
That's why prevention and awareness is so important. A few key points to remember: Avoid wooded areas or high grass and consider using an insect repellent outside. When you return inside, check for ticks. (Taking a shower soon after can help you find any in easy-to-miss spots.) Tumble-drying clothes can kill any ticks that remain on clothes. If you do find a tick, remove the entire thing with tweezers, pulling up steadily, without twisting the tick, and clean the bite and your hands with alcohol.
If you live in or have traveled to one of the areas where Lyme disease is most common, contact your doctor for next steps. Don't worry about a small bump or a bit of redness at the site of the bite -- but if it doesn't go away after a couple of days or if other symptoms start, it's worth a call.
While we might not expect A-list celebrities to be traipsing through wooded, grassy areas all that often, stars aren't immune to tick bites -- and many have used their fame to raise awareness for the illness. Here are a few of the famous faces that have been touched by Lyme disease.
The actress, most well-known for her role on "The Sopranos," <a href="http://www.nj.com/sopranos/ledger/index.ssf?/sopranos/stories/050301cinderella.html" target="_hplink">contracted Lyme disease in 2000</a>. Her feet began tingling and eventually her legs became paralyzed. Doctors were stumped for five days as to the cause, the New Jersey <em>Star-Ledger</em> reported. "It was such a life-altering experience," she told the paper. "I realized it could all be taken away in a moment" She recovered completely after taking antibiotics.
In 2007, the annual report on the president's health revealed that in August of 2006 <a href="http://articles.cnn.com/2007-08-08/politics/bush.health_1_lyme-disease-scott-stanzel-richard-tubb?_s=PM:POLITICS" target="_hplink">Bush had been treated for Lyme disease</a>. A White House spokesman said the president likely was bitten during a bike ride. He noticed a rash that doctors treated, and he had no other symptoms or any recurrence, according to CNN. "I wouldn't expect any problem at all for the president," Gary Wormser, chief of infectious diseases at New York Medical College and an expert on Lyme disease, told the <em>Washington Post</em>. "He won't be <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/08/AR2007080802268.html" target="_hplink">impacted by this infection in the future</a>."
The actress was <a href="http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20300711,00.html" target="_hplink">diagnosed with Lyme disease</a> in 2009. "I had the opportunity to approach it both with conventional medicine (antibiotics) and homeopathic remedies and supplements," she <a href="http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/actress-parker-posey-talks-about-her-battle-with-lyme-disease-in-support-of-new-documentary-rethinking-cancer-78212717.html" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "The first round of antibiotics did not destroy all the bacteria and I made a decision not to take them anymore and instead approach it purely holistically -- through the help of my homeopathic doctor who guided me with my diet and gave me the natural supplements to bring my body back to its vitality."
Duo Hall and Oates was forced to cancel performances in 2005 when <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2005-07-07-hall-lyme-disease_x.htm" target="_hplink">Hall was diagnosed with Lyme disease</a>, <em>USA Today</em> reported. A publicist told E! Online that Hall had the trademark <a href="http://www.eonline.com/news/Hall_and_Oates___and_Deer_Tick__/50198" target="_hplink">bull's eye rash and flu-like symptoms</a>. "We are so sorry to disappoint our fans, but we promise to make it up to them," he said in a statement. "This illness made it impossible for me to give my best effort to our audience, but now that it's been identified, I'm looking forward to a complete, quick recovery and to get back out there with John as soon as possible."
The author most famous for her hit novel "The Joy Luck Club" suffered mysterious hallucinations, confusion, neck and joint pain, numbness and insomnia for more than two years before she was <a href="http://www.people.com/people/archive/article/0,,20148516,00.html" target="_hplink">diagnosed with Lyme disease</a>. By that time, she had consulted 11 different doctors and paid $50,000 in medical bills, <em>People</em> reported. After researching her symptoms on the Internet, Tan told the magazine that everything clicked -- she had taken many hiking trips in parts of California where Lyme disease is common and she even remembered pulling ticks off of her dogs. While her symptoms were advanced, her doctor told <em>People</em>, antibiotics helped, and she started a charity organization called Lyme Aid4Kids to help raise awareness for the disease.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and poet experienced aches and pains and chronic fatigue that she, according to <em>The Guardian</em>, <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/jun/23/featuresreviews.guardianreview23" target="_hplink">self-diagnosed as Lyme Disease</a>. She called it a "spiritual transformation" and "frightening," teling Democracy Now! in 2006 that the disease was <a href="http://www.democracynow.org/2006/2/13/i_am_a_renegade_an_outlaw" target="_hplink">physically debilitating</a>.
It's not clear if model Brinkley ever had Lyme disease -- but she's certainly taken a strong stance against <em>ticks</em>. In the early '90s she made headlines for raising guinea hens, <a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,973245,00.html" target="_hplink">birds thought to eat deer ticks</a>, at her home in East Hampton, New York, according to <em>TIME</em>. She reported the <a href="http://articles.philly.com/1990-09-05/news/25877088_1_guinea-hens-lyme-disease-deer-ticks" target="_hplink">deer-tick population had fallen</a> on the grounds around her home since introducing the hens, the <em>Philadehlphia Inquirer</em> reported.
Few details are known about <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/30/nyregion/guest-appearance-by-alec-baldwin-at-a-hamptons-dinner.html" target="_hplink">the actor's Lyme disease</a>, but he told the <em>New York Times</em> that his symptoms are chronic and return annually. "At the same time of year, I get really tired," he told the paper.
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CLARIFICATION: While this post never said Brinkley had Lyme disease, the headline has been edited.