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Lyme Disease: What You Need to Know

Lyme Disease: What You Need to Know

If you love the outdoors, it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of Lyme disease. A bacterial infection spread through deer tick bites, Lyme disease is on the rise. In 2009 alone, there were nearly 30,000 confirmed cases, and another 10,000 probable cases in the United States.

Lyme disease is an inflammatory illness caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, commonly known as Borreliosis. Deer ticks pick up the bacteria mice and other small mammals, then introduce it to humans through their saliva.

The disease is most often spread in late spring, summer, and early fall, when deer ticks are most active. Because deer ticks are incredibly tiny, many people who contract Lyme disease never even realize they’ve been bitten. Though cases have been reported in most parts of the U.S., Lyme disease is most common in the northeast, great lakes region, and the Pacific coast.

There are three recognized stages of Lyme disease: primary, early disseminated, and chronic persistent. They range in severity, depending on how long the disease has been present.

The first stage generally resembles the flu. Symptoms include chills, fever, headache, loss of energy, and muscle pain. The one telltale sign of Lyme disease at this stage is a “bulls eye” rash, with a flat, or slightly raised, red spot at the site of the bite, often including light area in the center. The presence of this rash is a good indicator of Lyme disease infection, though not everyone who contracts the disease develops a rash.

Diagnosis is complicated by the fact that the disease has different effects in different people. Not everyone who contracts Lyme disease exhibits all of the symptoms. Some people never get sick at all, or experience only mild symptoms, while others contract debilitating, and even life-threatening, conditions.

Later-stage Lyme disease symptoms include body-wide itching, joint inflammation, a stiff neck, depression, and erratic or unusual behavior. Over time, these conditions can worsen and develop into an irregular heartbeat, impaired concentration, memory disorders, nerve damage, numbness, chronic pain, facial paralysis, trouble sleeping, and vision problems.

If caught early enough, Lyme disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics. Doctors will often prescribe a course of antibiotics to a patient who has knowingly been bitten by a tick, or who exhibits symptoms in combination with the distinctive rash.

A blood test can also check for the disease by searching for antibodies, which the body produces to fight off the bacteria. Unfortunately, there is a high incidence of false negatives with these tests. In fact, people with the worst infections often test negative, because all of their antibodies have combined with the bacteria, and can’t be detected in the blood.

If you believe you may have been bitten by a tick, or you begin to suffer from any of the symptoms of Lyme disease, be sure to see your doctor. Catching the disease in its earliest stages is key to preventing a full-blown case of chronic Lyme disease.

If you routinely spend a lot of time outdoors during deer tick season, you can take some precautions to minimize your potential for exposure. When walking or hiking in wooded or grassy areas, always apply insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, tuck your pant cuffs into your shoes or socks, and wear high boots. Wearing light colored clothing is also a good idea, because it makes it easier to spot ticks. Check yourself frequently while spending time outdoors, and afterward. If you have pets that go outdoors, it’s possible for them to bring the ticks into your home, so be sure to check them, too.

While it’s not possible to safeguard yourself against Lyme disease 100%, by being aware of the signs and symptoms, you can better protect your long-term health.

6 comments

1 Julia { 05.11.12 at 3:17 am }

I know these posts are you are old but in case you’re looking at this do you need to be aware: do check yourself thoroughly after being outside… they love the woods around my house in se PA WE HAVE MILLIONS OF THEM. DO ALSO CHECK YOUR PETS.
If you find a tick remove it and look at it closely you can compare it with pictures on The internet.* more than you ever wanted to know all you have to do is research.
Watch the spot closely the first 24 hours if it is red and irritated and seems to be getting worse instead of better… go to the doctor do not wait! I speak from experience. You need at least 3 weeks of antibiotics… the sooner you get antibiotics the better off you’ll be.

2 Jaime McLeod { 05.27.11 at 9:54 am }

You can catch it again (and again, and again…). Some think it never truly leaves your system once you have it. It is definitely a little understood disease.

3 R Johnson { 05.26.11 at 5:12 pm }

While this article was interesting, I have one question that I have not been able to find an answer to. If you have already had Lime disease and been treated for it, is it possible to catch it again, or is it one that can not be caught again once you’ve been infected and your body has the antibodies?

4 Sharon Hall { 05.06.11 at 11:55 am }

STOP blaming the deer!!! It’s a misconception that deer transmit the bacteria that causes lyme disease. Ticks do NOT get the bacteria from deer. That is a FACT. So your statement “Deer ticks pick up the bacteria from deer and mice, then introduce it to humans through their saliva” is not completely correct. Ticks get the bacteria from mice, and other small rodents, but primarily the white-footed mouse which has been infected with the bacteria. Birds, deer and other animals only act as the hosts to the tick, they do NOT become infected with the bacteria.You might want to read these articles to get the real facts:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/11/nyregion/l-lyme-disease-don-t-blame-deer-244678.html
http://www.animal-advocates.org/info/file?file=s81m5464.pdf

5 Jenn { 05.05.11 at 2:25 pm }

Last year and this year seem to be really bad here in NH. We just finished up building a pig pen along the woods’ edge this last week and a number of us have had multiple ticks on us. Last year I must have pulled atleast 20 ticks off myself alone. Once the ticks are all full and puffed up….how can you tell if it is a deer tick or the other, larger tick? We always get the large ticks on us. I have hair to my rear and always try to wear a skull cap or bandana to cover my head, but it does not seem to metter much to these ticks.

6 Lyme advocate { 05.02.11 at 11:06 am }

If caught early enough AND you have all the right complimentary lifestyle support mechanisms, you MAY kill the lyme bug in sufficient numbers. This is only the case in about 50% of people that do catch it in the first week. Many people have chronic Lyme symptoms for years if not decades after the standard anti-biotic treatment. Source – http://www.lyme-disease-research-database.com/lyme-disease-antibiotics.html

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