Lyme Disease

The bite of an infected tick usually causes this health condition. It is called Lyme disease and provokes different symptoms such as bull’s-eye rash, joint pain, and others.

This condition was first recognized in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. It is an infectious condition caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and rarely by Borrelia mayonii. These insects usually become infected after feeding on infected animals including birds, mice, or deer. These infected ticks commonly transmit Lyme disease in the Mid-Atlantic, North Central United States, Northeastern, and Pacific Coast of the U.S.

Lyme Disease Stages

Experts classify this condition into 3 stages because it helps to categorize the infection, the severity, and symptoms development. For example:

  • Early Localized – It happens within 28 days after a tick bite.
  • Early Disseminated – In such cases, it develops usually between 3-12 weeks after the tick bite.
  • Late Dissemination – It is the most advanced stage of this disease and it may take months or even years to develop.

Symptoms

The symptoms usually are different among people because it depends on the stage a person experiences.

Early Lyme Disease Symptoms

The following symptoms commonly appear within 30 days after the tick bite. Bull’s-eye rash (also known as erythema migrans) is usually the first symptom of Lyme disease. Roughly 8 in 10 people experience the previous symptom. Those who have lighter skin may also notice a red and solid rash. Check below other symptoms of stage 1:

  • Sore throat
  • Vision changes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches

Later Lyme Disease Symptoms

The second Lyme disease stage usually happens within 3 months but late dissemination (stage 3) may take one year until it appears after a tick bite.

People who experience these stages can experience more serious symptoms because the infection spreads throughout the body including organs. Examples include:

  • Lyme carditis (often causes an abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Neurologic diseases (including facial palsies and cranial neuropathy)
  • Multiple erythema migrans on the body
  • Numbness, pain, and tingling in the feet and hands
  • Neck stiffness
  • Severe headaches (migraines)
  • Meningitis
  • Arthritis
  • Encephalopathy which may lead to short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating, speaking problems, sleep issues, mental fogginess, and others

Moreover, people can experience later symptoms of this health condition without earlier symptoms including a bull’s-eye rash.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Children

Mostly, the symptoms of this condition are similar to those noticed in adults. However, a review suggests that in children also can appear some psychological symptoms. For example:

  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Depression
  • Anger or aggression

In case you are noticing your children act differently and do not know why, it may be a symptom of Lyme disease or even other medical conditions.

Risk Factors

You are at higher risk of developing Lyme disease if you are living in states with a high prevalence of this condition. Check below states with highest incidence of Lyme disease, according to the CDC:

  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • New Hampshire
  • Minnesota
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Those who work in the following places also are at higher risk of Lyme disease. Check below some examples:

  • Landscaping
  • Forestry
  • Farming
  • Park or wildlife management
  • Construction

Usually, tick bites occur in the summer when people spend more time outside and ticks are most active.

Diagnosis

In some cases, it may be difficult for healthcare professionals to diagnose this condition because the symptoms are very similar to other medical conditions. A physical examination to look for erythema migrans and other Lyme disease characteristics doctors will perform first. However, if you do not have any visual symptoms, they can order you to do some blood tests to check for antibodies (such as enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay-ELISA and Western blot).

It is important to know that these blood tests are reliable after several weeks of the tick bite. In case you suspect you have Lyme disease symptoms, do not hesitate to visit a doctor.

In addition, some commercial laboratories test ticks for Lyme disease. However, the CDC does not advise tick testing because:

  • Usually, the commercial laboratories that perform tick testing do not have the same quality standards as those for clinical diagnostic laboratories.
  • It is not sure you have Lyme disease even if you get the positive tick tests for a disease-causing organism.
  • Moreover, the negative outcomes can lead to a false assumption that you do not have an infection but you may be bitten by other ticks that transmit this health condition.
  • It is advised to start Lyme disease treatment if you notice any symptoms of this condition and do not wait until you get the tick test results.

Treatment

People usually have different treatments for the same condition because it depends on the severity and progression of the infection.

Early Stages

Early diagnosis and treatment can help to get rid of this infection quickly. Physicians usually prescribe oral antibiotics to treat this infection. For example:

  • Doxycycline
  • Amoxicillin
  • Cefuroxime

Later Stages

In case the infection progresses, it may affect your circulatory or central nervous systems. In such cases, physicians prescribe intravenous (IV) antibiotics and thereafter an oral regimen. The duration of this treatment is usually between 2-4 weeks. In more severe cases when patients experience abnormal heart rhythm or heart block, doctors may suggest staying in the hospital until the previous heart problems disappear.

In addition, healthcare providers may also prescribe antibiotics for 1 month if you experience Lyme arthritis. This is one of the late-stage symptoms of Lyme disease.

Lyme Disease Transmission

The ticks that are infected with the bacterium B. burgdorferi attach to any part of the body. In most cases, they are found in the moist areas of the body including the scalp, armpits, and groin area. It is needed for at least 36 hours for a tick to be attached to your body to transmit the bacterium.

In most cases, Lyme disease is transmitted by an immature tick (nymphs). These immature ticks are more likely to transmit this bacteria because they are small compared to adult ticks and it is harder to identify them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Lyme disease contagious?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this condition is not contagious. Therefore, people cannot transmit this infection through kissing, touching, air, food, water, or sex.

Is it possible to prevent Lyme disease?

Yes, it is possible to prevent tick bites. The following tips can help you to prevent or avoid tick bites that could cause Lyme disease. Examples include:

  • Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts when outdoors
  • Use insect natural repellents (including DEET products, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and others)
  • Check yourself and your pets after being outside, especially in areas with long grass.

What are the possible complications of Lyme disease?

In case you do not treat this condition, you may experience certain serious neurological and rheumatoid complications. For example facial palsy, extreme fatigue, meningitis, arthritis, and others. Ask your healthcare professional if you have any other questions.

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