What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads to humans by way of ticks. It is transmitted primarily by Ixodes ticks, also called deer ticks or black-legged ticks in the west. These tiny arachnids are usually found in wooded or grassy areas.
This disease is caused by a spirochete, a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme disease is often called “the great imitator” because its symptoms imitate many other conditions. It has the ability to affect many organs in the body, including the nervous system, brain, heart, joints, and muscles.
Because diagnosing Lyme disease can be troublesome, people with the condition are frequently misdiagnosed with other conditions. These include chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and various psychiatric conditions such as depression. Being misdiagnosed with other diseases can delay the correct diagnosis and treatment as the underlying infection is left to progress unchecked.
Lyme disease can affect people of all ages. However, it most commonly affects older adults, children, and park rangers or firefighters who spend extended periods outdoors and have an increased exposure to ticks.
Lyme disease can often be treated effectively and successfully if it is detected early on. However, if it is not treated or if treatment is delayed, there's a risk the patient could develop severe, long-lasting symptoms. Below are ten of the most common questions about Lyme disease:
- What is Lyme disease? It is a bacterial infection that is known to spread to humans through ticks known as Ixodes ticks. These ticks can be commonly found in grassy and wooded places. The disease is also called spirochete or the great imitator, the reason being the symptoms are often known to imitate other medical conditions.
- How long does it take to tell if one has Lyme disease? The symptoms of Lyme disease are known to start at any time within a period of three to thirty days after the individual has been infected. The symptoms during the incubation period can be confused with those of other diseases.
- Is there a cure for Lyme disease? This disease does have a cure and it can be managed effectively when the individual is diagnosed at an early stage. Those who are diagnosed earlier can manage with antibiotics, and those with a severe case would require intravenous antibiotics. The treatment for an advanced case of Lyme disease can run from several weeks to a month or more.
- How long can you have Lyme disease and not know about it? Many times, those who have been bitten by a tick are not even aware of it, and so this way, the tick can stay on the skin for a longer period of time. The ensuing symptoms are often misinterpreted as the flu.
- How is Lyme disease diagnosed? Blood tests may not always show positive for Lyme disease, so doctors usually recommend two types of blood tests: the western blot and the enzyme immunoassay, or EI. If both these tests show positive results, Lyme disease is confirmed as the diagnosis.
- What if Lyme disease goes untreated? Based on the stage of this disease, there are a host of symptoms that can appear if the disease goes untreated for some time. Those symptoms can include fever, paralysis of the face, rashes on the skin, and arthritis.
- Can you get Lyme disease from a dog, bed bug, or flea? Many a times, individuals get Lyme disease from the bite of an immature tick, known as a nymph. Felines and dogs are known to also get Lyme disease, but currently, there is no evidence to indicate either animal being able to pass this disease to a human.
- What should you do if you’re bitten by a tick? First, one should make sure to remove the tick properly. If the tick is not removed properly, (if it is squeezed or oil is applied to it, for example), there are chances that it could lead to transmission by the bugs. Get tested for Lyme disease and also show the doctor the tick, if possible.
- How soon after a tick bite would you start to experience a rash or other symptoms? The symptoms can start between three and thirty days after the individual becomes infected. The rash is known to spread in a circular pattern, but not everyone gets this rash.
- Can a person get Lyme disease twice? Some individuals do face recurrent cases of Lyme disease even if they have taken antibiotics previously and recovered.