Is It the Summer Flu or Lyme Disease?

Is It the Summer Flu or Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease—although traditionally marked by the bull's-eye rash—can cause flu-like symptoms, according to Connecticut-based Lyme Research Alliance. The LRA provides tips to protect against ticks to prevent Lyme disease and how to check for ticks.

You’ve been enjoying a wonderfully relaxing summer—sunning, grilling, spending time in the great outdoors—so why have you suddenly developed a fever, chills, muscle and joint aches, and feel totally drained? If you’re suffering from a flu-like illness, it could mark the beginning of Lyme disease.

“Although many people associate Lyme with the hallmark bull’s-eye rash, less than 50 percent develop one,” said Debbie Siciliano, co-president of Lyme Research Alliance. “If you develop what seems like a summer-time flu, and you live in or have visited an area where deer ticks are found, it’s important that you see a doctor and get tested for Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses.”

July and early August are prime months for tick trouble because the insect-like creatures are in their “nymph” stage, about the size of a poppy seed, and are hard to detect. Their tiny size permits them to painlessly attach to your skin and feed on your blood—often unnoticed—for days. They also tend to attach themselves to parts of the body that you don’t readily see, like the armpits, groin, behind the knee, and scalp.

In an interview with Lyme Research Alliance, Kirby Stafford III, Ph.D., vice director/chief scientist of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, said nymph ticks are more active this year than they have been recently. “We don’t know why, but we’re seeing more nymphal activity in Connecticut than in the past few years,” said Stafford, also the state entomologist.

If an infected tick transmits the Lyme spirochete into your bloodstream, you don’t feel anything. The corkscrew shaped bacterium burrows into and through your tissues, where it starts multiplying. In as soon as three days, you can start to feel sick as the bacteria disseminate throughout your body.

“It’s important for people to understand that if they feel sick—even several weeks after being in rural or suburban areas—it could be Lyme or another tick-borne infection,” said LRA’s Siciliano. “The flu-like symptoms could lead to serious and debilitating health problems, eventually affecting someone’s nervous system, heart, or joints. That’s why people must be alert and check for ticks.”

To protect yourself from tick bites, don’t sit in the grass or lean against trees or fences. When hiking in the woods, gardening, camping, or mowing the lawn, wear long, light-colored clothing and tuck your pant legs into your socks. Spray exposed skin with DEET insect repellant of at least 20 percent concentration. Treat your clothes with permethrin and spray your shoes with it. After coming back indoors, toss your garments into a dryer at high temperatures to kill any ticks that have attached to your clothing (ticks hate dry heat). Shower as soon as possible and check your body thoroughly for any attached ticks.

To better educate the public about Lyme disease, LRA now offers a “Lunch ‘N Learn” presentation session to employees of New York and Connecticut corporations, nonprofit groups, and other organizations. The free 50-minute seminar, scheduled during the lunch hour, focuses on Lyme risks, prevention, tick removal, and prevention tips. If you are interested in learning more about the LRA program, please contact Peter Wild, LRA’s executive director, 203-969-1333.

Lyme Research Alliance, formerly Time for Lyme, is a Connecticut-based, national nonprofit that funds cutting-edge research into Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. For more information, visit