Lyme Disease

Get the Facts About Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease

Symptoms

Not everyone infected with these bacteria gets ill. If a person does become ill, the first symptoms resemble the flu and include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle pain
  • There may be a “bulls eye” rash, a flat or slightly raised red spot at the site of the tick bite. Often there is a clear area in the center. It can be larger than 1 – 3 inches wide.

Symptoms in people with the later stages of the disease include:

  • Body-wide itching
  • Joint inflammation
  • Stiff neck
  • Unusual or strange behavior
  • Note: Deer ticks can be so small that they are almost impossible to see. Many people with Lyme disease never even saw a tick.

Treatment

Everyone who has been bitten by a tick should be watched closely for at least 30 days. Most people who are bitten by a tick do NOT get Lyme disease.

A single dose of antibiotics may be offered to someone soon after being bitten by a tick, if all of the following are true:

  • The person has a tick that can carry Lyme disease attached to their body. This usually means that a nurse or physician has looked at and identified the tick.
  • The tick is thought to have been attached to the person for at least 36 hours.
  • The person can begin taking the antibiotics within 72 hours of removing the tick.
  • The person is over 8 years old and is not pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • A full course of antibiotics is used to treat people who are proven to have Lyme disease. The specific antibiotic used depends on the stage of the disease and the symptoms.

Causes

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi). Certain ticks carry these bacteria. The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are infected with Lyme disease.

Lyme disease was first reported in the United States in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. Cases have now been reported in most parts of the United States. Most of the cases occur in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and along the Pacific coast. Lyme disease is usually seen during the late spring, summer, and early fall.

Tests & Diagnosis

A blood test can be done to check for antibodies to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The most commonly used test is the ELISA for Lyme disease. A western blot test is done to confirm ELISA results. A physical exam may show joint, heart, or brain problems in people with advanced Lyme disease.

Prevention

When walking or hiking in wooded or grassy areas:

  • Spray all exposed skin and your clothing with insect repellant (spray outdoors only, do not use on face, use just enough to cover all other exposed skin, don’t spray under clothing, don’t apply over wounds or irritated skin, wash skin after going inside)
  • Wear light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants with the cuffs tucked into shoes or socks
  • Wear high boots, preferably rubber
  • Check yourself and your pets frequently during and after your walk or hike. Ticks that carry Lyme disease are so small that they are very hard to see. After returning home, remove your clothes and thoroughly inspect all skin surface areas, including your scalp.
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