Ticks will be out in huge numbers this summer. Here are five important things to know about Lyme disease in pregnancy, plus how to protect yourself and your baby.
Wait, ticks? Unfortunately, yes. Experts predict ticks will be out in huge numbers over the summer, thanks to the abnormally snowy winter that helped "blanket" the little parasites, protecting them from harsh cold that usually helps control the population. This means your risk of contracting a tick-borne illness like Lyme disease from a tick bite is heightened this year, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
Should you be worried about your unborn child when it comes to Lyme? Yes and no, according to tick-borne disease experts.
Lyme disease can't be transmitted to unborn babies
First, the good news: Lyme disease won't affect your child in the womb as long as you get treatment, according to Jorge Parada, MD, infectious disease specialist and medical advisor with the National Pest Management Association.
"There are no reports of Lyme disease transmission from mother to fetus," Dr. Parada told FitPregnancy.com. Even better: "There is no evidence that links Lyme disease in pregnant women to birth defects and there's no evidence showing that Lyme disease can be transmitted via breast milk."
Miscarriage and untreated Lyme disease
If left untreated, Lyme disease contracted during pregnancy may lead to infection of the placenta and possible miscarriage.
"Lyme Disease, like any bacterial or viral infection during pregnancy, could result in a first trimester miscarriage," says Carl Smith, MD, OB-GYN with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
That's terrifying, but catching the symptoms drastically reduces this from happening.
"No negative effects on the fetus have been found when the mother receives appropriate, timely antibiotic treatment," says Dr. Parada. Typically, treatment involves a course of antibiotics given by your doctors over 10 days to four weeks, depending on the symptoms and the amount of time the Lyme has been in your body.
Lyme disease shows up with a variety of symptoms
One of the easiest ways to tell if you have Lyme disease is via a red rash somewhere on your body that resembles a bull's eye (think a large, red outer ring with a red dot inside).
However, not all people with Lyme will develop a rash, according to Richard Horowitz, MD, tick-borne disease specialist and author of Why Can't I Get Better? Solving the Mystery of Lyme & Chronic Disease. "Migratory muscle, nerve and joint pain—meaning that it goes from one place to another—is the hallmark of Lyme disease," he says.
Go to your doctor right away if you've been in high-risk tick areas (like with plenty of trees and tall grass) and feel severe fatigue, joint pain and inflammation, even if you don't have a telltale rash to go with it.
DEET and pregnant moms
Strong insect repellents like DEET are one way to keep ticks—and the Lyme disease they carry—at bay.
While some research has linked DEET to cardiac birth defects in animals, Dr. Smith says the benefits of using it outweigh any risks. "The amount of DEET that would be absorbed through the placenta is very, very small, given that it acts as a barrier," he says. "It's better to use protection than to not use it."
Other EPA-registered insect repellents like Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are fine to use if you'd rather stay away from DEET.
Prevention is the best protection
The most effective way to protect you and your unborn child from Lyme disease is to avoid tick bites in the first place. Stay away from tick-infested areas whenever possible and wear light-colored long pants and long sleeve shirts so ticks are easier to see, says Dr. Horowitz.
Tuck pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants to keep them from sneaking into any exposed areas. Most importantly, be sure to give your body a thorough once-over when you come back inside, even if you did use an insect repellent. "Promptly remove any ticks that may be attached," he advises. "This is especially important in the prevention of Lyme disease because typically the tick needs to be attached for about 24 hours in order to transmit the infection."