What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. B. burgdorferi. It is transmitted to humans by a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick. The tick becomes disease-ridden after feeding on infected deer or mice.
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A tick has to be present on the skin for 24 to 48 hours to transfer the infection. Most people with Lyme disease have no memory of a tick bite.
People who live or spend time in wooded areas are more likely to get infected with this illness. People with domesticated animals that are let out in wooded areas also have a higher risk of getting Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
There are three stages of Lyme disease: early localized, early disseminated, and late disseminated. The symptoms you experience will depend on which stage the disease is in.
Stage 1: Early localized disease
Symptoms of Lyme disease start one to two weeks after getting exposed to the tick bite. One of the earliest signs is a bull’s-eye rash, which is a sign that bacteria are multiplying in the bloodstream. The rash occurs at the site of the tick bite as a central red spot surrounded by a clear spot with an area of redness at the edge. It isn’t painful, it doesn’t itch, and it may be warm to the touch. This rash will disappear after four weeks.
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The formal name for this rash is erythema migrans. Erythema migrans is said to be typical of Lyme disease. However, many people don’t have this symptom. Some people have a rash that is solid red, while dark-skinned people may have a rash that look like a bruise.
Stage 2: Early disseminated Lyme disease
Early disseminated Lyme disease occurs several weeks after the tick bite. During this stage bacteria are beginning to spread all over the body. It’s characterized by flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, and vision changes.
During early disseminated Lyme disease you’ll have a general feeling of being ill. A rash may appear in areas other than the tick bite, and neurological signs such as numbness, tingling, and Bell’s palsy can also occur. This stage of Lyme disease can be complicated by meningitis and cardiac conduction disturbances. The symptoms of stages 1 and 2 can occur together.
Stage 3: Late disseminated Lyme disease
At this stage, the disease occurs when the infection hasn’t been treated in stages 1 and 2. Stage 3 can occur weeks, months, or years after the tick bite. This stage is characterized by:
- severe headaches
- disturbances in heart rhythm
- difficulty concentrating
- brain disorders (encephalopathy)
- short-term memory loss
- arthritis of one or more large joints
- numbness in the arms, legs, hands, or feet
- Mental fogginess
Contact your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Lyme disease starts with a valuation of your health history and a physical exam. Blood tests are most reliable a few weeks after the preliminary infection, when antibodies are present. Your doctor may order the following tests:
- ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) is used to detect antibodies against burgdorferi.
- Western blot can be used to confirm a positive ELISA test. It checks for the presence of antibodies to specific burgdorferiproteins.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used to evaluate people with persistent Lyme arthritis or nervous system symptoms. It is performed on joint fluid or spinal fluid.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Lyme disease is best treated in the early stages. Early treatment is a simple 14 to 21 day course of oral antibiotics to get rid of all traces of infection. Medications used to treat Lyme disease include:
- doxycyclinefor adults and children older than 8 years old
- cefuroximeand amoxicillin for adults, younger children, and women who are nursing or breastfeeding
Persistent or chronic Lyme disease is treated with intravenous antibiotics for a period of 14 to 21 days. Symptoms improve more slowly, even though this treatment eliminates the infection.
How to prevent Lyme disease
Lyme disease prevention mostly involves decreasing your risk of getting exposed to a tick bite. Take the following steps to prevent tick bites:
- Wear long pantsand long-sleeve shirts when in the outdoors.
- Make your yard hostile to ticks by clearing wooded areas, keeping underbrush to a minimum, and putting woodpiles in areas with lots of sun.
- Use insect repellent. Insect repellent with 10 percent DEETwill protect you for a period of about two hours.
- Be alert. Check your children, pets, and yourself for ticks. If you have been infected and treated, don’t assume you can’t be infected again; people can get Lyme disease more than once.
- Remove ticks with tweezers. Apply the tweezers near the head or the mouth and pull gently.
- See your doctor immediately after a tick bite.