Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks.
The disease was first identified in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in the 1970s, and since then, it has become one of the most commonly reported vector-borne illnesses in the United States.
Lyme disease is caused by a number of different strains and species of Borrelia bacteria, one of which is Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried by the black-legged tick.
Mode of transmission
The tick picks up the bacteria by feeding on infected animals, such as deer or mice, and then passes it on to humans when it bites them.
You’re at risk of Lyme disease if you spend time where the ticks live, such as in grassy, brushy or wooded areas. Taking safety measures in these areas can lower the risk of Lyme disease.
While the disease is most prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States, it has been reported in all 50 states and is also found in many other parts of the world, including Europe, Asia and parts of South Africa.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from person to person, but they typically start to appear within 3-30 days after the tick bite.
The most common early symptom is a characteristic rash that looks like a bull’s eye, with a red centre surrounded by a clear ring and then a red ring. The rash often feels warm to the touch, But it’s usually not painful or itchy.
Other early symptoms can include flu-like symptoms, such as:
- Muscle aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
If left untreated, Lyme disease can progress to more severe symptoms, such as:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Facial palsy
- Heart palpitations
- Neurological problems.
In rare cases, Lyme disease can be fatal.
Diagnosing Lyme disease can be challenging, as many of the early symptoms are non-specific and can mimic other illnesses.
If you know you had a tick bite or might have been around ticks, watch for symptoms. If they show up, see your care provider as soon as possible.
If you suspect that you may have Lyme disease, it is important to seek medical attention right away. Your healthcare provider will likely order a blood test to look for antibodies to the bacteria, which can confirm the diagnosis.
The good news is that Lyme disease is treatable, especially if caught early. The most common treatment is a course of antibiotics, typically lasting two to four weeks, depending on the severity of the infection. Most people recover completely with prompt and appropriate treatment.
Preventing Lyme disease requires a combination of avoiding tick bites and checking for ticks after spending time outdoors.
Some simple tips for avoiding tick bites include:
- Wearing long pants and sleeves,
- Using insect repellent with DEET,
- Staying on trails when hiking or walking in wooded areas.
After being outside, it is important to check your body for ticks and remove them promptly if found.
Lyme disease is a serious illness that can have long-lasting effects if left untreated.
While it is most commonly found in certain parts of the United States, it is important for people everywhere to take precautions to avoid tick bites and to seek medical attention if they suspect that they may have been infected.
With proper diagnosis and treatment, most people with Lyme disease can make a full recovery and go on to live healthy, active lives.