Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe. Deer ticks harbor the illness and spread it as the feed on the skin of animals and humans. A small percentage of deer tick bites actually lead to lyme disease. Most prevalent in the Northeastern part of the country, Lyme disease was named for an area in Connecticut with numerous cases of the illness.
You contract lyme disease when you receive an infected deer tick bite. The bacteria enter your body through the bite and then make their way to your bloodstream. To transmit the illness, a tick must be attached to your skin and feeding for an extensive time period. The longer a tick goes undiscovered, the greater the risk of Lyme disease. You cannot catch Lyme disease from another person.
Because Lyme disease can affect different parts of the body, not all cases show symptoms in the same way. Generally though, signs of Lyme disease include:
- Red, bulls-eye like rash
- Flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and fatigue
- Intense joint pain and swelling
- Neurological concerns, especially in untreated cases
Often symptoms start out mild but become worse as the illness progresses. Early treatment is most effective, so contact a doctor if you have any symptoms.
Your physician will look for the characteristic rash that indicates Lyme disease. If you don’t have that symptom, the doctor will take a detailed history and complete a physical exam. Tests such as the ELISA test, Western blot test and Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can confirm the diagnosis especially in the later stages of Lyme disease.
To treat Lyme disease, oral or intravenous antibiotics are the recommended protocol. For early-stage Lyme disease, doctors often prescribe a 14 to 21 day course of an antibiotic such as doxycycline, penicillin or erythromycin. In more advanced cases, patients may receive intravenous antibiotics for 14 to 28 days. Certain symptoms, such as tiredness or muscle aches, may linger even after antibiotic treatment, but they usually improve over time.
The best prevention against Lyme disease is to limit exposure to ticks by:
- Covering arms and legs as much as possible
- Using an insect repellant with DEET
- Avoiding heavily wooded or grassy areas
- Inspecting family members and pets for ticks
- Carefully removing ticks