What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and, in rare cases, Borrelia mayonii. Lyme disease is transmitted to humans and animals from the bite of an infected deer tick. Individuals who spend time in grassy or wooded areas or live near these areas are more likely to contract this illness. Most transmissions occur in summer when ticks are most active and when more people are outdoors. However, tick bites can happen year-round. During mild winter seasons, ticks may appear and flourish earlier than usual.
How Do You Get Lyme Disease?
This condition is caused by bacteria transmitted through the bite of an infected Lyme disease tick or deer tick. Infected ticks are typically found in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast, especially in northern California, but may reside elsewhere. These ticks can attach to virtually any body part but often cling to hard-to-see areas, such as the groin, armpits, and scalp. In most cases, the infected tick must be attached to its host for 36–48 hours or more to spread the bacterium to the host.
Lyme Disease Stages
There are three main stages of Lyme disease: early localized Lyme disease, early disseminated Lyme disease, and late disseminated Lyme disease. The stages may overlap, and not every patient who contracts Lyme disease goes through all three. In addition, Lyme symptoms can continue to worsen and transform into a long-lived and debilitating illness if left untreated.
Early Localized Lyme Disease
Early localized (or acute) Lyme disease symptoms can begin hours, days, or weeks after an infected tick bite. At this early stage, the infection has not yet spread through the body. Therefore, Lyme disease is the easiest to cure at this stage. Symptoms may include a skin rash, flu-like symptoms, chills, fever, fatigue, headache, stiff neck, muscle soreness, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and a sore throat.
Early Disseminated Lyme Disease
Early disseminated Lyme disease may develop several weeks or months following the initial tick bite. At this stage, bacteria begin to spread the infection throughout the body. In addition, early disseminated Lyme disease is characterized by flu-like symptoms, such as chills, fever, headaches, and fatigue, as well as pain, weakness, arm and leg numbness, vision changes, heart problems, chest pain, rash on the body, and facial paralysis (Bell's palsy).
Late Disseminated Lyme Disease
If Lyme disease isn't promptly or effectively treated during the initial two stages, late disseminated Lyme disease, also known as chronic Lyme disease and post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, can occur weeks, months, and even years after the tick bite. At this point, the infection has spread through the body, and many patients develop chronic arthritis and an increase in neurological and cardiac symptoms.
Chronic Lyme disease symptoms may include the following.
- Arthritis In Joints Or At The Bite Site
- Severe Headaches Or Migraines
- Vertigo And Dizziness
- Migrating Pains That Appear & Disappear In The Joints & Tendons
- Stiff, Aching Neck
- Sleep Problems
- Heart-Rhythm Disturbances
- Focus And Concentration Issues
- Numbness In The Arms, Legs, Hands, Or Feet
- Problems Speaking, Carrying A Conversation, & Processing Information
- Severe Fatigue
When Should You See A Doctor For Lyme Disease?
Most individuals infected with Lyme disease do not remember or know of being bitten by a tick. Moreover, most Lyme disease symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions. If you experience Lyme disease symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. An early diagnosis and proper treatment of Lyme disease can improve treatment outcomes. If you know a tick has bitten you or have been around ticks, inspect your skin and watch out for symptoms, such as a Bull’s Eye Rash. If you notice this rash or are experiencing other symptoms, contact one of our dermatologists in Boardman, OH, as soon as possible.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
Infected tick bite symptoms vary for each person, and the signs of Lyme disease can likewise vary in severity. Lyme disease is divided into three stages, but symptoms of this disease can overlap. Some patients also present in later stages without experiencing symptoms of the earlier stages. Overall, the most common symptoms of Lyme disease include the following. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have any of the symptoms mentioned below and above.
- Red Oval Or Bull's Eye Rash
- Mental Fogginess
- Joint Pain
- Muscle & Tendon Aches
- Swollen Lymph Nodes
- Sleep Disturbances & Insomnia
- Difficulty Concentrating
Lyme Disease Risk Factors
Your chances of getting Lyme disease depends on certain risk factors, such as how much time you spend where ticks reside. This includes where you live, the habitat you spend time in, and the time of year. Deer ticks carrying Lyme disease are widespread in most of the United States and south-central and southeastern Canada.
In contrast with regional ticks, the castor bean tick is commonly found throughout Europe. Ticks live in wooded, shrubby, or grassy areas. If you spend time in these locations, you have a higher risk of being bitten. The risk of infection is typically greater in the spring, summer, and fall, yet ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Lyme disease is most effectively treated in the early stages. Treatment for early localized Lyme disease is a course of antibiotics taken over 10–14 days. Early diagnosis and prompt antibiotic treatment of Lyme disease can help prevent late Lyme disease symptoms. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will consider your symptoms if you were exposed to an infected black-legged tick, the possibility of other illnesses accounting for the same symptoms, and multiple lab tests.
Most Lyme disease tests check for antibodies responding to an infection, which can take multiple weeks to develop. Thus, if you are tested immediately after being bitten, the tests may not confirm Lyme disease, even if you have it. In this case, you will likely require another round of tests. Some forms of Lyme disease, including those with cardiac and central nervous system effects, require intravenous antibiotics. After improving on IV, healthcare providers may switch to prescribing an oral medication to complete the treatment, which usually takes 14–28 days.
Facial palsy resulting from neurologic Lyme disease is typically treated with oral antibiotics, and Lyme meningitis may be treated with oral or IV antibiotics, depending on the severity of the infection. Lyme carditis, which occurs when Lyme disease bacteria enter the heart's tissues, can typically be treated with oral or IV antibiotics, depending on the severity. Some patients may require a temporary pacemaker. Lyme arthritis is often treated with a 4-week course of antibiotics, though some patients with persistent joint inflammation and pain after the first course may require a second course. In some cases, joint swelling and pain can persist beyond the two courses. The cause of this is unknown, but it is thought to be due to immunologic factors.
Is Lyme Disease Contagious?
No. No evidence proves Lyme disease is contagious between humans and animals. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women cannot transmit the disease to their fetuses through breast milk. This infection is caused by bacteria transmitted to humans and other animals through the bite of an infected black-legged deer tick. These bacteria are found in body fluids, but no evidence suggests Lyme disease can be spread to another person through coughing, sneezing, kissing, sex, or blood transfusions.
Complications From Lyme Disease
Some individuals with Lyme disease report experiencing symptoms persisting after treatment, regardless of whether they received treatment early in the disease cycle. These longer-lasting symptoms may include arthritis, body aches and pains, persistent lethargy, and memory problems. Some individuals with these symptoms may be diagnosed with post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome (PTLDS).
The causes of these long-lasting issues may be caused by incomplete treatment, becoming reinfected with Lyme disease, immune system response to dead bacteria, immune system activity harming healthy tissues (autoimmunity), and conditions other than Lyme disease that have not yet been diagnosed.
How To Prevent Lyme Disease
Currently, a Lyme disease vaccine is not available, though there are other steps you may take to reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease. Consider the following tips for Lyme disease prevention and precaution to decrease your risk.
- Wear closed-toed shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat, and gloves when in wooded or grassy areas.
- Stay on trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grasses while hiking or running in wooded or grassy areas.
- Keep your dog on a leash in wooded or grassy areas.
- Apply an insect repellant with a 20% higher concentration of DEET than you would normally to your skin (avoid children's hands, eyes, and mouth during application).
- Do what you can to tick-proof your yard by clearing brush and leaves where ticks live, mowing your lawn regularly, and stacking wood nearly in dry and sunny areas to discourage tick-carrying rodents.
- Don't assume you are immune to Lyme disease, as you can contract Lyme disease more than once in your lifetime.
- Check every inch of your clothing, skin, children, and pets for ticks. Be especially cautious after spending time outdoors in wooded or grassy areas.
- Look for ticks vigilantly; deer ticks are usually as small as a pinhead, so they may not be visually apparent during a quick inspection.
- Shower when you return home and use a washcloth to exfoliate your skin. Ticks can remain on the skin for hours, even before attaching themselves to the skin.
- Should you identify a tick, remove the tick as soon as possible using tweezers. Gently grasp the tick by placing the tweezers around its head or mouth. Avoid crushing or squeezing the tick and, instead, pull the tick carefully and steadily away from the skin. Consult with your primary care physician about sending your tick to a lab to be tested for pathogens.