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Yes, this antibiotic might prevent Lyme Disease if taken soon after tick bite

Under certain circumstances and in areas endemic for Lyme, a single dose of doxycycline can reduce a person's risk of developing the illness.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The thermometer heats up, the grass grows taller, and the U.S. crawls straight into dreaded tick season

Anyone hoping to spend time outside this summer needs to remember the dreaded mini pest can post mega threats to health.

Of all the common tick-borne illnesses, Lyme Disease can cause some of the most painful problems, even brain damage, if not treated early. There is no current vaccine for Lyme, and by the time you notice the signature bullseye rash common in 70 to 80% of cases, it's too late prevent.

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THE QUESTION

Viewer Kathleen asked, "Is it true a single dose of the antibiotic Doxycycline can prevent Lyme Disease?"

THE ANSWER

A single (two-pill) dose of Doxycycline can help prevent Lyme Disease, if taken soon after the tick bite. However, a doctor might not find it necessary to prescribe, unless you live in or travel to an area where Lyme is common.

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THE SOURCES

THE PROCESS

A study co-led by the Tick Bite Study group found a single prophylactic (preventative) dose of Doxycycline can reduce the risk of developing Lyme by up to 87%, if taken promptly after a tick bite. 

The CDC agrees Doxycycline is effective, noting the benefits outweigh the risks if:

  • Estimated time of tick attachment is 36 or more hours
  • Doxycycline can start within 72 hours of tick removal

The CDC deems it safe for both adults and children, in different doses (200 mg for adults or 4.4 mg/kg for children), but Snider does not routinely prescribe it for every tick bite.

"That recommendation is for areas that are endemic to Lyme Disease. North Carolina is not considered that part, quite yet," she explained.

The CDC's most recent Lyme case map from 2019 shows 15 states plus DC with a high incidence of Lyme. The NC Cooperative Extension explains the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, is the most common carrier of Lyme Disease. It is not, however, the most common tick in North Carolina. That is why carefully extracting and saving the tick can help determine next steps.

"You can put it in a jar, or you can put it in a Ziploc and show it to your primary care doctor, and they can probably differentiate (the type of tick)," Snider said.

Even if it is not the deer tick, Snider acknowledged no major risk to taking Doxycycline, just in case. However, she said repeated use can change the healthy bacteria in your gut, and she cautioned against taking any antibiotic unnecessarily.

She explained, "Right now, in medicine, we are trying to be really purposeful with antibiotic prescriptions. I'm not a proponent of always telling people to take Doxycycline for every embedded tick they have, because chances are, it's not necessarily going to be (a carrier) of Lyme Disease."

With all of this in mind, experts agree the best Lyme Disease prevention isn't a pill. It's wearing deet, covering up and checking both your skin and your pets' fur this summer.

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