Lyme Disease & Pregnancy

Lyme Disease During Pregnancy

Keeping yourself safe from ticks and the diseases they carry is difficult enough. But the risk of being bitten by a tick this summer and fall is particularly worrisome, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Recent mild winters have allowed tick populations to surge and expand their geographical range.

More than 329,000 people in the U.S. get Lyme each year from black-legged ticks (also called deer ticks) which harbor Lyme bacteria and various debilitating co-infections, including Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Bartonellosis and the potentially deadly Powassan virus. So it’s more essential than ever that you keep yourself safe from ticks.

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Should you be worried about Lyme disease if you are pregnant?

Health experts don’t know for sure about the effects of Lyme disease on pregnancy. But “several clinical, serological, and epidemiological studies have failed to confirm a causal association between B. burgdorferi infection [the bacterium carried by an infected tick] and a pregnancy adverse outcome,” says Dr. Ioannis Mylonas in the medical journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases.

That said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that untreated Lyme disease may cause pregnancy complications, including an infection of the placenta and the possibility of miscarriage. That’s why you need to immediately alert your physician if you are pregnant and have been in an area with tall grass, plenty of trees, bushes and shrubs and suspect you’ve been infected or if you have found a tick attached to your skin. Ticks are most plentiful in areas where woodlands transition into fields, meadows or yards. In fact, many people contract tick-borne disease in their own yards at home. 

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How do you know if you have Lyme disease? 

One of the easiest ways to tell if you have Lyme is if you spot a bull’s-eye rash (a large, red outer ring with a red dot inside) somewhere on your body. However, fewer than 50 percent of those with Lyme ever recall such a rash, says GLA’s CEO Scott Santarella. Other early signs may include flu-like symptoms: headache, fever and chills, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue. Later signs may include dizziness, severe headache, severe joint pain, and Bell’s palsy (facial drooping).

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How is Lyme treated if you are pregnant?

Getting diagnosed and treated early is important to avoid the more serious later stages of Lyme disease. Based on your symptoms, your physician may opt to prescribe two to four weeks of antibiotics even before ordering lab tests. However, doxycycline, an antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease, is not prescribed for pregnant women because it can affect fetal development. Instead, the antibiotics amoxicillin, and also cefuroxime are often prescribed. 

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How can you protect yourself and your baby from Lyme disease?  

The only sure way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten. According to GLA CEO Santarella, you should:

  • Stay away from tick-infested areas (tall grasses, woods, shrubs, etc.) whenever possible;
  • Tuck your pants into socks and shirts into your pants to keep ticks from creeping into exposed areas;
  • If you enjoy walking in the woods, avoid sitting down or leaning on logs or bushes and walk in the center of trails;
  • Use insect repellent. Products containing 20-30 percent of DEET or Picaridin are considered safe during pregnancy. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products are also safe, but most don’t last as long.
  • Treat clothing with the repellent Permethrin;
  • Do tick checks when you come inside. Ticks can bite anywhere on your body. Be sure to check under your armpits, your bellybutton, behind your knees, in your hair and around your groin.
  • Shower after you’ve been outdoors and toss your clothes into a hot dryer for 10 minutes to kill any ticks.

If you do notice a tick on your body, don’t panic. Keep calm and remove it properly and promptly by using a fine-pointed tweezers or special tick-removal tweezers. By removing the tick as soon as you can, you reduce the chance that you will get infected.

To remove a tick: 

Using fine-pointed tweezers, grasp the tick at the place of attachment, as close to the  skin as possible and gently pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure.

  • Do not squeeze, twist or jerk the tick.
  • Do not touch the tick with your bare hands.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water, apply rubbing alcohol or antiseptic to bite site.
  • Place tick in a zippered plastic bag with a moist cotton ball and send it to your local health department or private lab for testing.        
  • Learn more about proper tick removal and testing labs.

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Article provided by Global Lyme Alliance, the nation’s leading nonprofit dedicated to conquering Lyme and tick-borne diseases through research, education and awareness. For more information on best ways to protect yourself from Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, go to Global Lyme Alliance’s website at GLA.org.