Lyme disease self-defense? It's more than bug spray

Testing for Lyme disease is not necessary unless patients have specific symptoms of the disease and have a history of exposure, according to the American College of Rheumatology. The group warns that Lyme testing in the absence of these features increases the change of false positive results and unnecessary treatments. flickr/jkirkhart35

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flickr/jkirkhart35
(CBS) Lyme disease is kicking into gear, now that summer's here.

And each year, it seems to get worse.

PICTURES: Lyme disease lies - and truths

New cases of the tick-borne disease have tripled from more than 10,000 infections in 1995 to almost 40,000 in 2009. Ninety-five percent of these cases occur in 12 Northern states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maine, and Virginia.

And the disease-spreading deer tick is most active during mid-May to mid-August, according to the New York Department of Health.

So what do you need to know about Lyme?

It's caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which spreads to humans through bites from infected ticks. Symptoms include a bull's-eye rash, fever, headache, and fatigue. If untreated, the infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system, resulting complications like arthritis, facial paralysis, and an irregular heart rhythm.

The ticks that spread Lyme can be tiny - the size of a poppy seed. So it's smart to take preventative measures to avoid bites

  • Avoid wooded, bushy areas with high grass, and stick to the center of hiking trails.

  • Use bug repellants that contain 20 percent or more of DEET on skin, or ones that contain permethrin on clothing. Some clothes are pre-treated with permethrin and can protect from ticks through 70 washes.

  • Even these measures can't guarantee a tick won't bite, so hop in the shower within two hours of returning from the outdoors to double-check and wash off any creepy crawlers.

  • If you find a tick latched on, use a fine-tipped tweezers to steadily lift it off - steady is the key word since twisting and jerking can break off parts of the tick, leaving it in your skin.

  • Clean the area with rubbing alcohol, or soap and water after removing the tick.

  • Don't forget to check your pet- they're at a high risk for bites, and ticks are harder to find under all that fur.

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