Definition & Overview
Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection spread by ticks belonging to the Ixodes species. Discovered in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975, most cases of Lyme disease in the US carries the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. However, in Europe majority of Lyme disease cases involve the bacteria Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii. Today, Lyme disease can be found in every continent except Antarctica.
Majority of Lyme disease cases are spread by the nymph (immature) deer ticks, but adults can also be carriers. Many people do not even know they’ve been bitten by nymph deer ticks since the bites are painless. The only indication is the bite and the redness around the area that follows.
Lyme disease develops in stages. The early stage is characterized by a tick bite in the middle of a red ring. In the second stage, the disease begins to affect the skin, nervous system, and the heart. There will be damage to the joints, nerves, and the brain if the disease progresses to the late stages.
Lyme disease is non-contagious. However, if a pregnant woman becomes infected, the disease will be passed on to her unborn child.
Antibiotics serve as an effective treatment for Lyme disease while it is still in the early stages. The response to the treatment may be slower in the advanced stages of the disease, but the majority of patients are completely cured by treatment.
Cause of Condition
The primary cause of Lyme disease is deer ticks, but the same parasites can be found in number of different animals. These ticks thrive in heavily wooded areas, but not all of them are infected with the bacteria.
Deer ticks, especially the nymphs, can attach to a person for days without being noticed because their bites can hardly be felt. The longer the tick attaches to a person, the greater the risk of acquiring the disease.
Lyme disease is often referred to as “The Great Imitator” because its symptoms are similar to many other diseases. In fact, in the early years of the disease, it was commonly being diagnosed as arthritis because it affected the joints.
The key symptoms differ in each of its stages. Some people may not display any symptoms during the first and second stages.
During the first stage (1-4 Weeks), most people infected with Lyme disease will experience headaches, a stiff neck, muscle and joint pains, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, and lack of energy. The symptoms are similar to those of a flu virus.
If the patient does not receive treatment for Lyme disease during the first four weeks of the infection, the disease will progress to the second stage wherein the skin, nervous system, joints, and the heart may become affected. The following symptoms may appear during the second stage of the disease:
- Rash around bite expands
- Stiff facial muscles
- Frequent headaches
- Poor memory
- Pain in the joints
If the patient does not receive treatment for Lyme disease after four months, the disease progresses into the final stage and the following symptoms will be apparent:
- Numbness of the hands, feet, or back
- Heart problems
- Memory and sleep problems
- Frequent feelings of fatigue
Who to See & Types of Treatment Available
The first medical professional to see if you notice any of the above symptoms or a tick bite is your general practitioner or family doctor. Make sure that you inform your doctor of the bite and all of the symptoms. If you’re currently living in an area known for Lyme disease or were in one of those areas recently, you can also inform your doctor of your concern.
In order go come up with a diagnosis, your doctor will perform several tests. Many doctors prefer a culture test to identify the bacteria. If the culture test proves to be positive, the doctor may not require any further tests.
Some doctors may prefer that you also take the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test. This test is performed to detect the antibodies the body releases to combat the bacteria. However, there is a chance that the test may have false-positive results, which is why more tests will be required.
If the above test has positive results, you will also need to undergo a Western Blot Test to confirm the presence of the bacteria. Once the presence of Lyme disease has been confirmed, you will need to undergo treatment immediately.
Your treatment will include antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin, or cefuroxime. Some doctors prefer that you take these oral antibiotics for 10 to 14 days. Others may want you to continue up to 21 days.
If the disease has progressed to the advanced stages and your nervous system has been affected, antibiotics will be given to you intravenously for 14-28 days. Intravenous antibiotics will get rid of the infection, but you may need a bit more time to recover from the symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue. It has not yet been determined why some people still display the symptoms of Lyme disease even after the infection has been cured.
It’s important to note that although treatment for Lyme disease has a high success rate, especially when performed during the early stages, there have been cases where antibiotics failed to provide a cure. Although rare, Lyme disease has in the past proven to be fatal to some patients.
- National Institutes of Health – Lyme Disease
- Lyme Disease Association, Inc.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention