In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, former Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Hadid opens up about her battle with late-stage Lyme disease, and how the illness drove her to contemplate suicide. But what is the mysterious illness?
Lyme disease is a potentially debilitating infection caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick.
“For some people, Lyme is easily treated but for others this disease is devastating,” says Linda Giampa, executive director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. The CDC has also documented cases in which Lyme has been fatal.
Early stage symptoms include headaches, flu-like symptoms, joint pain, fatigue and sometimes a rash that has many different shapes including one which may look like a bullseye centered on the tick bite. “It’s important to note that less than 50% of patients get a bullseye rash,” says Giampa.
Late stage Lyme symptoms can include paralysis, agonizing joint pain, neurological problems, severe headaches, problems with memory, hearing, and vision, inflammation of the brain, and inflammation of the heart. A majority of patients suffering with late stage Lyme disease never even remember getting a tick bite.
While the majority of cases are in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, Lyme has been reported in all 50 states. 329,000 or more new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed each year in the U.S., according statistics released in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Prevention is key when it comes to Lyme. Here are some basic tips provided by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.
Conduct thorough tick checks routinely after outdoor activity. Check yourself and children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in the hair.
Create a tick safe zone. Ticks like the woods and areas with high humidity. Most ticks are found within 9 feet of your lawn’s edge – especially near the woods, stone walls, or ornamental plantings. They do not like the sunny, manicured areas of lawns.
Know the symptoms. Lyme symptoms usually appear days or weeks after infection. At this stage Lyme is the easiest to cure.
Know how to remove a tick. Don’t yank it out. By doing so, the tick’s head could remain in the skin along with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. Instead use pointy tweezers and gently pull the tick straight up and away from your skin. Click here for more tips.
Find out where to get your tick tested. Bay Area Lyme Foundation offers free tick testing as part of a citizen study to better understand where tick-borne diseases exist. Find the tick testing nearest you.
Walk in the middle of trails and avoid sitting on logs or leaning on trees.
Cover up – wear a hat and tuck in your hair; wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants tucked into your socks, and hiking boots.
Wear light-colored clothes. It’s easier to see ticks.
Put clothes in a hot dryer for one hour after being in woods.
Check common places to which ticks might latch-on – under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in the hair.
Shower immediately after playing or hiking in tick-infested areas (showers can wash away hard to spot ticks that have not yet latched on or become engorged).
RELATED VIDEO: Yolanda Hadid on Lyme Disease Battle: “I’m Getting Better”
And don’t forget to check any camping gear. Ticks often come into the house on a ride. Check coats and daypacks.
Redo tick checks 3 days after being in woods. If you’ve missed any ticks the first time around and they’ve had a chance to feed on you, they will be bigger and easier to spot.
Consider Deet for skin and permethrin for your clothes. A single application of permethrin to your clothing can provide up to six weeks of protection, even after repeated washings.
For more on Hadid’s struggle with Lyme, check out her new memoir – Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisibility of Lyme Disease – which comes out Sept. 12.