Healthy Living

What is Lyme Disease? A General Overview of the Disease

What is Lyme Disease? A General Overview of the Disease

Key Takeaways

  • Lyme disease is a tick-borne infectious disease.
  • It is caused by a spiral shaped bacterium known as borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato.
  • Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infection in Europe and the United States.

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infectious disease. It is caused by a spiral shaped bacterium known as borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. A common tick is the carrier of this bacterium.

The first incidence of lyme disease was reported in 1975 in a town called Old Lyme in Connecticut. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infection in Europe and the United States of America. People living in wood areas and people owning pets that go in to the woods are more likely to develop lyme disease.  

How does the tick contract the B. burgdorferi organism? When a tick feeds on an infected deer or mouse, the bacterium is transmitted to the tick. B. burgdorferi is injected into human blood when an infected tick feeds on human blood. This bacterium will then travel deep in the tissues and the lining cells of all the organs where they will begin to multiply and form a colony known as the biofilm. The body’s immune system begins to fight against these bacteria and therefore the tissues inflame, producing signs and symptoms.

Most people who develop lyme disease have no memory of a tick bite. However for a tick to be able to transmit the infection to humans, it typically needs to remain on the skin for at least about 24 to 28 hours.

Lyme disease

Symptoms of lyme disease

Lyme disease is a disease caused by bacterial infection and gets transmitted through the bite of an infected tick. The initial symptom is usually a rash (referred as erythema-migrans) on the skin of the victim, which resembles a bull’s eye. However, as the infection spreads, more visible symptoms can be observed similar to the symptoms of flu. These symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscular pain and joint ache
  • Stiffness in the body and neck
  • Fatigue and restlessness

Described below are the symptoms observed during the initial and later stages of the disease. A clear distinction is made between the two for a clear and better understanding.

Early signs and symptoms

Early signs and symptoms appear three to 30 days after the tick bite and include:

  • High-grade fever
  • Muscles and joints ache
  • Feeling cold
  • Headache
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Swollen or inflamed lymph nodes
  • Rash or erythema-migrans:
    • This is regarded as the hallmark or indispensable symptom of Lyme Disease.
    • It is small in the beginning but can spread to about 12 inches or 30 centimeters in diameter.
    • The rash is experienced on the skin and by 75 percent of lyme-infected people.
    • It gives off a feeling of warmth when touched but it is not itchy or painful.
    • These may develop at more than one place of the body.

 

Later signs and symptoms

As the disease progresses, further symptoms will begin to show. There include:

  • Severe headache
  • Rashes on multiple areas of the victim’s body
  • Neck stiffness
  • Severe joint pain, swelling on the knees and arthritis 
  • Tendons, muscles, bones and joints experience intermittent pain
  • Vertigo and dizziness
  • Itching, numbness or tingling in hands and feet
  • Dyspnea (breathing difficulty) or shortness of breath
  • Bell's palsy or paralysis of the facial muscles, in which the face nerves lose control and either one or both sides of the face droop
  • Fluttering in the heart beat or heart palpitations (lyme carditis)
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Inflammation and swelling in the brain and spinal cord
  • Pain in nerves

Diagnosing lyme disease

Lyme disease has always been difficult to diagnose, owing to the fact that the blood tests available are not reliably accurate.

Treatment

The standard treatment for Lyme disease is a few weeks of antibiotics. The most commonly prescribed antibiotic is Doxycycline which targets on killing the bacteria and curing the infection. When Doxycycline is taken for 14 to 21 days the infection can be completely cured. Cefuroxime or Amoxicillin is used for younger children and women who are breast feeding.

Unfortunately, some of these bacteria undergo mutations and become immune to these drugs and continue to survive causing symptoms. These bacteria are therefore resistant to Doxycycline treatment. Individuals who contract these resistant bacteria will develop chronic symptoms which become progressively more incapacitating and lie threatening.

Chronic Lyme disease is treated with intravenous antibiotics for 14 to 21 days. Although complete cure can be achieved, the speed of recovery is often very slow. Some ticks may carry other organisms apart from the Borrelia Burgdorferi which will add to the severity of the disease. These other organisms can be Ehrlichia, Anaplasma, Bartonella, and Babesia.

Most consultants say that most of the patients who have Lyme disease develop the “Bull’s eye rash”. However in reality, only about 1 in 10 people with Lyme disease get it.

How serious is lyme disease?

In about 50 percent of the cases, Lyme disease is just an acute infection caused by a single type of bacteria. In these individuals, antibiotic treatment is 95 percent effective. However, the remaining half of patients can go on to develop a chronic, progressively worsening disease.

Most tick-borne pathogens are tough as they invade the host, escape their immune system and even survive the antibiotics and continue to live on, causing chronic disease.

Post-treatment complications

Even after treatment, muscle or joint pain along with other nervous system symptoms may appear in a patient. This condition is known as post lyme disease syndrome (PLDS). Even regular intake of antibiotics may not resolve this issue of PLDS. However, most patients recover and get better with the passage of time.

Preventive measures

  • Check for ticks: Ticks should be well-inspected on the clothing as well as on the body. In case a person finds any ticks, they should be removed with the help of tweezers as soon as possible. These must not be crushed or squeezed, but removed fully by pulling gently while grasping the head or mouth. Also, the bitten area should be cleaned with an antiseptic.
  • Regular spraying of insecticides and repellents: These spatial repellents include active ingredients like metofluthrin and allethrin which helps to reduce the pathogen transmission.
  • Bed nets: These may prove beneficial for accommodations which are not screened or air-conditioned, thus bed nets serve to provide protection from insects.
  • Covering up the body: Put on appropriate clothing like a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and boots which cover maximum areas of the skin leaving less room for exposure. Also, a hat may serve the purpose well.

Bottom line

Lyme disease is most common in Europe and the United States of America. These are places well-known for their citizens having home pets which include cats and dogs among others. In case these pets have ticks, the people associating with them are at risk of being infected with lyme disease, especially if they live in a wooded area. There should therefore be a budget for insecticides and repellents to ensure the ticks are taken care of, hence ensuring the possibility of infection is not there. Good things come with a cost.