According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 300,000 Americans are infected with Lyme disease every tick season. The tick season is during the spring and summer. The first incidence of Lyme disease was reported in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Lyme disease is the most common tick borne infection in both Europe and the United States. People living in wooded areas as well as people who own outdoor pets that go in to the woods are more likely to develop Lyme disease.
Lyme is sometimes called 'The great Imitator'. This is because the symptoms of Lyme Disease resemble or imitate the symptoms of other diseases. Often the symptoms resemble multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. That's why it is difficult to diagnose Lyme at a primary observation. Misdiagnosis often complicates the disease in most cases. It can affect the vital organs such as the heart, brain, nervous system, muscles, and joints too. Untreated Lyme leads to severe symptoms that are difficult to resolve.
The symptoms of Lyme disease are similar to that of flu or fever. The patient can exhibit symptoms of body aches and pains, as well as headache. Other symptoms can get worse and can eventually result in chronic debilitating joint pain. Only 30,000 cases are reported each year and many cases are therefore left untreated.
You can get Lyme disease from a back legged deer tick, but not all ticks carry the disease. Although this deer tick is smaller than the head of a pin, it can cause serious health concerns. 1 out of every 4 or 5 deer ticks may be infected with the disease in areas where Lyme disease is most common.
Many misconceptions about the disease
There are many misconceptions about the disease within the general public. Many might think that everyone with Lyme disease develops the characteristically tell-tale sign of the bullseye rash. However, this is not always the case. The CDC says only about 70% of the patients with Lyme disease develop this telltale sign, but this percentage will also will vary from region to region.
How does the bacteria enter the body?
People often get Lyme from the bite of immature ticks often termed as Nymphs. These immature ticks are smaller than head lice and their bite is often painless. People may not even notice that they have been bitten. Transmission of the disease depends on how long the tick is attached. There are even chances of transmitting the disease from a pregnant mother to the unborn child through the blood stream. Lyme is a zoonotic disease (passed from animals to human) and the possibility of spreading the disease through human to human interaction has little scientific evidence as of yet. Common symptoms include:
- Symptoms of flu, such as fever, sweating, pain in muscles and joints, fatigue etc.
- Rashes on skin
- Inadequate sleep
- Depression and/or cognitive impairment
The causes of Lyme disease
The bacterium that is responsible for Lyme disease is Borelia burgdoferi. Most of the symptoms of Lyme disease are caused by the way the bacteria targets the immune system, leading to inflammation of the tissues and cells. Borelia burgdoferi targets the peripheral nervous system, causing pain in the back, hands, feet, arms, and legs.
This inflammation can also affect the central nervous system (CNS) causing symptoms like headache, fatigue, and even neurological symptoms like memory loss, learning difficulties, or depression.
Lyme disease can be treated completely if caught early, but it can be misdiagnosed as another disease or could be missed completely. In these cases, the disease will continue to progress, causing a chronic debilitating illness in the patient.
If the disease is caught early
If the disease is caught early, then it could be easily treated with a simple course of antibiotics for a period of about 14 to 21 days. However, in some cases, especially in ones that have been missed or misdiagnosed, antibiotics do not work on these bacteria. Dormant persistent cells will evade these antibiotics, which means that these organisms have the ability to remain dormant. Once antibiotic therapy has been stopped, these organisms wake up and affect the nervous system again.
To avoid getting to the chronic stages of Lyme disease, you will need to make sure your disease is diagnosed early and treated. Self treating may appear to be cheaper but it is never the best option. In the long run, you will have to spend much more money treating advanced stages of the disease.
Keep in mind that during the initial stages of lyme disease, the symptoms may disappear. If you got bitten by a tick, it is best to get checked out by a healthcare professional. Even if the symptoms are initially suppressed, Lyme disease will still develop.
According to the CDC, Up to 20 percent of Lyme disease cases can cause long term symptoms, including arthritis in the joints, cognitive difficulties, chronic fatigue, and sleep disturbances, even after antibiotic treatment. At its chronic stage, the disease will also cause trouble with the reproductive system, heart and blood circulation and the skin.
Is it contagious? Can it spread from one person to another?
No, Lyme disease is not contagious. However, if you are pregnant and diagnosed with Lyme disease, you can transmit the bacteria to your baby via the placenta. So, it is important that you get yourself tested and treated if you show any symptoms of Lyme disease.
What you should you do if you think you've been bitten by a tick?
- Don’t try to squeeze it with your fingers.
- Use tweezers to remove the tick.
- Disinfect the area bitten by the tick.
- Consult a physician if you live in an area prone to Lyme disease or where outbreaks have been reported.