Lyme disease is a disorder caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick.
Symptoms can occur anywhere from 3 to 30 days after the bite and can be wide-ranging, depending on the stage of the infection. In some cases, symptoms can appear months after the bite.
The chances you might get Lyme disease from a tick bite depend on the kind of tick, where you were when the bite occurred, and how long the tick was attached to you. Black-legged ticks must be attached to you for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease. If you remove the tick or ticks within 48 hours, you aren’t likely to get infected.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Early signs and symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes — all common in the flu. In up to 80% of Lyme infections, a rash is one of the first symptoms.
Without treatment, symptoms can progress. They might include:
- severe headache or neck stiffness;
- rashes on other areas of the body;
- arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly in the knees;
- loss of muscle tone or “drooping” on one or both sides of the face;
- heart palpitation or an irregular heartbeat;
- inflammation of the brain and spinal cord;
- shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.
What does the rash look like?
About 20% to 30% of Lyme rashes have a “bulls-eye” appearance — concentric circles around a center point — but most are round and uniformly red and at least 5 centimeters (about 2 inches) across. Most are just red and do not have the classic ring within a ring.
The rash expands gradually over a period of days and can grow to about 12 inches across. It may feel warm to the touch, but it rarely itches or is painful, and it can appear on any part of the body.
How small are ticks?
Ticks come in three sizes, depending on their stage of life. Larvae are the size of grains of sand, nymphs the size of poppy seeds, and adults the size of an apple seed.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Doctors diagnose it based on symptoms and a history of tick exposure. Two-step blood tests are helpful if used correctly. But the accuracy of the test depends on when you got infected. In the first few weeks of infection, the test may be negative, as antibodies take a few weeks to develop. Tests aren’t recommended for patients who don’t have Lyme disease symptoms.
What are the stages of Lyme infection?
There are three stages of Lyme disease observed:
Early localized Lyme. Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and typically a rash that has a “bulls-eye” appearance or is uniformly round and red and at least 5 centimeters in size.
Early disseminated Lyme. Flu-like symptoms now include pain, weakness, or numbness in the arms and legs, vision changes, heart palpitations, chest pain, a rash, and facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy).
Late disseminated Lyme. This can occur weeks, months, or years after the tick bite. Symptoms might include arthritis, severe fatigue and headaches, vertigo, sleep disturbances, and mental confusion.
While experts don’t understand it, roughly 10% of people treated for Lyme infection do not shake the disease. They may go on to have three core symptoms — joint or muscle pain, fatigue, and short-term memory loss or mental confusion.
This is called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. It’s considered controversial because its symptoms are shared with other diseases and there isn’t a blood test to diagnose it.
There are theories as to why Lyme symptoms become chronic. One is that the body continues fighting the infection long after the bacteria are gone, much like an autoimmune disorder.
How is Lyme disease treated?
Antibiotics are used to treat early-stage Lyme infection. Patients typically take doxycycline for 10 days to 3 weeks, or amoxicillin and cefuroxime for 2 to 3 weeks. In up to 90% of cases, the antibiotic cures the infection. If it doesn’t, patients might get other antibiotics either by mouth or intravenously.
For early disseminated Lyme disease, which may happen when a Lyme infection goes untreated, oral antibiotics are recommended for symptoms such as facial palsy and abnormal heart rhythm. Intravenous antibiotics are recommended if a person has meningitis, inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord, or more severe heart problems.
In late-stage Lyme, a patient may receive oral or intravenous antibiotics. Patients with lingering arthritis would receive standard arthritis treatment.
There is no treatment for post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
Patients with Lyme disease will benefit from including exosomes in their treatment protocol.
What areas are more likely to have it?
The majority of Lyme cases in 2018 (the latest year for which statistics are available) were in 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Most tick bites aren’t an issue if you discover them shortly after time spent outdoors.
In the southern U.S., which is more prone to hot weather, ticks tend to stay under leaf litter and don’t come up higher to feed much. This means Southern ticks don’t transmit Lyme as frequently because they don’t tend to feed on humans.
Who is likeliest to get Lyme disease?
Infection is more common in males up to age 15 and between the ages of 40 and 60, because they are more likely to play outside, and go camping, hunting, and hiking.
Lyme infection drops off in older teens and those in their 20s because they spend more time with computers and gadgets and less time outside.
What’s driving tick expansion?
Scientists point to a variety of causes for the spread of Lyme infection. Among them are reforestation, especially in the Northeast U.S., where Lyme disease is more prevalent; climate change and temperature extremes; suburbanization; and more exposure to the white-tailed deer, which is the black-legged tick’s favorite mode of travel.
The development led to record low numbers of deer early in the last century but the deer population has rebounded as reforestation took place over several decades, meaning the tick population has risen and expanded as well.
Deer and white-footed mice, which transmit Lyme disease to ticks that bite them, are moving closer to humans as their habitats disappear. Ticks don’t mind dogs, either, which carry them into homes and spread them to their humans.
Another reason is: Warmer weather and mild winters may bring more people outside, raising their chances of being bitten, particularly in Lyme-prone areas.
What’s the best way to prevent a tick bite?
Ticks can’t fly or jump, but instead, live in shrubs and bushes, and grab onto someone when they pass by. To avoid getting bitten:
- Wear pants and socks in the woods, in areas with lots of trees, and while handling fallen leaves.
- Wear a tick repellent on your skin and clothing that has DEET, lemon oil, or eucalyptus.
- For even more protection, use the chemical permethrin on clothing and camping gear.
- Shower within 2 hours after coming inside, if possible.
- Look at your skin and wash ticks out of your hair.
- Put your clothing and any exposed gear into a hot dryer to kill whatever pests might remain.
How do you know if you’ve been bitten?
Given that the ticks are the size of a poppy seed, you’ve got to have pretty good eyes. If you’ve been walking in the woods, in tall grass, or working in the garden, check your skin afterward, ideally in the shower or bath. That way, you’ve removed your clothes, which may carry ticks, too.
What do you do if there’s a tick under your skin?
Remove it with a pair of fine-tipped tweezers as soon as possible, pulling upward with steady pressure.
If parts of the tick remain in the skin, also try to remove them with tweezers. After everything is out, clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
If you experience the symptoms of Lyme disease, please contact us as soon as possible to start the treatment in time and avoid unwanted sequels to your health.