What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is caused by four main species of bacteria: Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia mayonii, Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii bacteria. Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii cause Lyme disease in the United States, while Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii are the leading causes of Lyme disease in Europe and Asia.
The most common tick-borne illness in these regions, Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, commonly known as a deer tick. You're more likely to get Lyme disease if you live or spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas where ticks carrying the disease thrive. It's important to take common-sense precautions in areas where ticks are prevalent.
What are the Symptoms of Lyme disease?
A small, red bump often appears at the site of a tick bite or tick removal and resolves over a few days. This is normal after a tick bite and does not indicate Lyme disease. However, these signs and symptoms may occur within a month after you've been infected:
- Rash: From 3 to 30 days after an infected tick bite, an expanding red area might appear that sometimes clears in the center, forming a bull’s-eye pattern. The rash (erythema migrans) expands slowly over days and can spread to 12 inches (30 centimeters) across. It is typically not itchy or painful.
- Erythema migrans: This is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease. Some people develop this rash at more than one place on their bodies.
- Flu-like symptoms: Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.
What Causes Lyme disease?
In the United States, Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii bacteria, carried primarily by blacklegged or deer ticks. The ticks are brown and, when young, often no bigger than a poppy seed, which can make them nearly impossible to spot. To contract Lyme disease, an infected deer tick must bite you. The bacteria enter your skin through the bite and eventually make their way into your bloodstream. In most cases, to transmit Lyme disease, a deer tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours. If you find an attached tick looks swollen, it may have fed long enough to transmit bacteria. Removing the tick as soon as possible may prevent infection.
Risk factors Associated with Lyme disease
- Spending time in wooded or grassy areas: In the United States, deer ticks are most prevalent in the Northeast and Midwest regions, which have heavily wooded areas where deer ticks thrive. Children who spend a lot of time outdoors in these regions are especially at risk. Adults with outdoor occupations also are at increased risk.
- Having exposed skin; Ticks attach easily to bare flesh. If you're in an area where ticks are common, protect yourself and your children by wearing long sleeves and long pants. Don't allow your pets to wander in tall weeds and grasses.
- Not removing ticks promptly or properly; Bacteria from a tick bite can enter your bloodstream if the tick stays attached to your skin for 36 to 48 hours or longer. If you remove a tick within two days, your risk of acquiring Lyme disease is low.
Where you live or vacation can affect your chances of getting Lyme disease. So can your profession and the outdoor activities you enjoy.