Lyme Disease is a prevalent tick-borne bacterial infection found in the US, Europe and other parts of the world. In the US, it originates from a ‘corkscrew-shaped’ bacterium – Borrelia burgdorferi. A spirochete transmitted through a bite of infected tick belonging to the genera Ixodes scapularis. This also goes by the name of ‘deer’ or ‘black-legged’ tick, and Ixodes pacificus; the ‘Western black-legged’ tick, carrying the bacterium from biting an infected animal like a deer or mouse.
These are minute arachnids that typically thrive in grass-covered and forested landscapes. Though believed to endemic in the East Coast of the US, Lyme Disease commonly occurs throughout the country, including around sixty countries worldwide. The disease thus thrives wherever the tiny carrier arachnids can find favorable conditions to flourish.
What Is Lyme Disease?
Lyme Disease can be challenging when it comes to diagnosing it. There were many cases in which patients received a wrong diagnosis, although they were suffering from this condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that 300,000 infected individuals are diagnosed each year in the US. The estimate totaling is 1.5 times higher than women diagnosed with breast cancer. Also, it is six times bigger than the number of patients diagnosed with HIV/AIDS over the same time span.
However, owing to the difficulties in appropriate diagnosis of the disease, some experts believe an exact estimation could be even higher. Lyme Disease is indiscriminate and strikes people of all ages and gender. The chances of contracting the disease are higher the longer the tick remains attached to the victim’s skin. Although, the CDC has reported that children, the elderly, and vulnerable workers like firefighters and park rangers who must work outdoors prone to tick bites, are more likely to contract Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease Symptoms
Experts describe the Lyme spirochete as “The Great Imitator,” because it has the propensity to mimic symptoms of many diseases. The bacterium infects most organs of the human system. The brain, nervous system, the heart, muscles, and joints, are some of the organs on which you can see this disease’s consequences. Early symptoms of Lyme disease in most infected individuals appear between one to four weeks since the bite of the infected tick.
Lyme Disease Signs
Early cutaneous infestation from the bacterium has the name of erythema migrans. It manifests itself as an expanding rounded rash at the site of the bite in some 70 – 80% of infected individuals. This is often accompanied with clinical manifestations of flu-like symptoms, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, joint pains, and muscle aches. In children ages 5-15, Lyme may cause hip arthritis up to 2 years after a tick bite. One unique sign of Lyme disease is Bells’ Palsey that affects both sides of the face. Markedly, clinical deductions alone, while sufficient for diagnosing erythema migrans are insufficient for appropriate diagnosis of extracutaneous expressions of Lyme disease.
How to Determine Whether or Not You Have Lyme Disease?
Adequate diagnosis of Lyme Disease, therefore, requires proper analytic testing performed in appropriately equipped laboratories with outstanding quality-control procedures for conclusive confirmation of extracutaneous Lyme disease.
If the condition goes undetected and therefore untreated over an extended time, it extends to other areas of the body. Moreover, it can affect the joints and the heart, frequently, several weeks following the initial bite. Additional rashes may appear over this time, and there may be intermittent periods of pain and weakness in the arms and legs. Paralysis of the facial muscle, also known as Bell’s palsy may transpire, attendant with headaches, memory loss, and rapid heartbeat (tachycardia).
Several months following the initial tick bite, in the later stages of Lyme Disease, the most serious progression of the disease may occur, often because the disease had progressed undetected, or not succumbed to treatment. Arthritic inflammation of the joint, usually affecting the knees may turn chronic.
The nervous system may show abnormal sensation due to malfunctioning of peripheral nerves (peripheral neuropathy). This may lead to states of confusion. Heart problems, though infrequent, may reveal inflammation of the heart muscle attendant with an irregular heartbeat (heart block).
Lyme Disease Causes
The black-legged tick is believed to be the main culprit for the transmission of Lyme Disease in the Northeastern and North-Central regions of the US. On the other hand, the Western black-legged tick is responsible for the spread of the disease in the Pacific Coastal region. However, Lyme Disease has been reported to flourish in the entire US and Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Still, despite its prevalence, the disease has not been shown to be transmissible by other tick species like the lone star and dog ticks. Lyme Disease is not communicable between humans. Also, although most pets can contract the disease, they do not transmit it to humans. Nevertheless, other insects like mosquitoes, flies, and fleas are known to transmit Lyme Disease to humans.
Lyme Disease Diagnosis
So how can you tell you have Lyme Disease? You will do this by successful identification of physical manifestations like “bulls eye” rash. Also, a recognition of the presence of known symptoms that amply suggest the incidence of Lyme Disease. Still, rashes do not occur in all cases of the disease. Also, it is not always possible to recall a tick bite. Therefore, doctors may perform special blood tests like spinal tap or skin biopsy three to four weeks after suspected encounter with a tick bite to confirm or dismiss a suspicion of contracting Lyme Disease. These serology tests are not as good as a thorough history and physical exam.
Lyme Disease Treatment
Lyme Disease is usually treatable with antibiotics, particularly, in the early phase of the disease. I like to prescribe Doxycyline (100 mg twice a day for 14 days). Children under 8 should instead receive Amoxicillin. Pregnant women also should take Amoxicillin. As the condition progress through its evolving stages, it tends to require a more extensive administration of an antibiotic. It may even require intravenous antibiotics. Beware of a Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction after receiving an antibiotic treatment.
The only known human vaccine against Lyme Disease became obsolete, and specialists have withdrawn it from the market.
There is, therefore, no known current human vaccine against the disease. Naturally, the most obvious preventive measure to avoiding the disease is to avoid tick bites, whenever possible. You can do this by avoiding grass-covered and forested landscapes. You should stay away from forests especially from May to July. It also helps to completely cover one’s body from head to toe while outdoors.
You could try the application of insect repellents like DEET and other types of repellents. However, you should never apply permethrin in itself directly to the skin. The application of repellents all over the skin and clothing can kill ticks and prevent them from biting.
It is helpful to frequently inspect one’s body and that of accompanying pets after spending time outdoors. An exhaustive skin and scalp cleansing process to dislodge any freshly bound ticks helps to avoid a tick bite. In the unfortunate event of finding a tick stuck to your skin, avoid the use of topical agents like nail varnish, and petroleum jelly in a bid to extricate the tick. All these products will only harm your skin. Moreover, most of these agents are totally ineffective.
The most effective way to remove a tick is to use a fine-tipped tweezer.( See Tick Bite) Simply pinch the head of the tick, which is closest to your skin. Then gently tear the tick away, without twisting the head as you abstract it from your skin.