Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the United States and Europe. It is transmitted to humans via a bite of an infected black-legged or deer tick. People who spend time or reside in grassy or forested areas, where infected ticks thrive, are more vulnerable to contract the disease.
Typically, initial signs of infection include headache, fever, fatigue, and erythema migraines (an expanding skin rush). In this post, Dr. Jason from Livvnatural discusses everything you need to know about Lyme disease, its causes, symptoms, prevention, and how to treat it.
In the United States, the disease is caused by Borrelia mayonii and Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria species.
In Europe and Asia, the bacteria Borrelia garinii and Borrelia afzelii are the main causes of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms
Depending on the stage, untreated Lyme disease alters various body systems and can produce multiple signs and symptoms.
These symptoms usually appear in stages, which may vary from one individual to another. The stages can overlap in some people.
On average, the incubation period of this disease usually is 7 to 14 days but can be shorter or longer (days or years). In rare cases, some people show no symptoms (mostly those in Europe).
Below are the main signs and symptoms of Lyme disease:
Early Signs and Symptoms (3-30 Days After Infection)
- Erythema migrans (EM) – An expanding oval or circular, red or bluish rash with a darker center (resembling a bull’s eye)
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Muscle and Joint pains
Later signs and symptoms (Weeks to Months After Infection)
- Multiple Erythema migrans – Rashes may appear on other body parts
- Facial palsy. Inability to move one or both sides of your face
- Arthritis. Swelling of joints accompanied by severe pain, especially knees, elbows, and other large joints.
- Severe headaches
- Nerve pain
- Neck stiffness
- Lyme carditis (Irregular heartbeats)
- Neurological problems – Inflammation of the spinal cord and brain (meningitis)
- Episodes of tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness and shooting pains
Diagnosis and Testing
Diagnosis of Lyme disease can be challenging since many of its signs and symptoms often exist in other conditions. Diagnosis is based on:
- Signs and symptoms.
- Possibility of exposure to infected ticks
- Laboratory tests results
- Physical examinations (of erythema migrans rash, arthritis, and facial palsy)
A two-tier testing process is recommended for Lyme disease: Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test and the Western blot test.
Both steps are necessary, and the same blood sample can be used to do the tests.
The sensitive ELISA test (also called “equivocal”) is the most commonly used to test for the disease.
ELISA test is used to confirm the presence of IgM or IgG antibodies
It takes some time for the immune system to produce substantial antibodies so that results may be negative in the early stages of Lyme infection.
For people living in areas with Lyme infected ticks, no further diagnosis is needed for a patient who has developed an erythema migrans rash.
Western Blot Test
If the first test is positive, then the Western blot test is run. The tests’ results are only considered positive if both the first (ELISA) and second (Western blot) tests were positive.
Most Lyme infections are mostly transmitted by Ixodes nymph during spring and summer.
The best prevention against Lyme disease is avoiding and taking safety measures while in likely tick habitats.
Woodlands, tall grasses, shrubs, and woodpiles are the favorite habitats for ticks.
The following precautions will help protect you and your family against tick bites:
- Always wear long-sleeve shirts and long sleeve pants (tucked in shoes) when going outdoors.
- Consider spraying and soaking clothes with solutions containing 0.5% permethrin.
- Avoid exposure to ticks. Follow trails when camping and avoid the wooded and grassy areas.
- Clear wooded areas in your yard and expose woodpiles to sunlight.
- After returning from outdoors, examine your clothing, shower immediately, and check your body for ticks.
- Use tweezers to remove ticks. Ticks on your skin should not be pulled or crushed. Instead, hold the head of the tick and remove gently using tweezers.
- Don’t assume you’re immune to Lyme disease. You can get infected more than once.
Typically, treatment is more effective the sooner it’s started, especially in the early stages. Most people recover within a few weeks of taking antibiotic medications.
Lyme disease medications include:
1. Oral Antibiotics:
These are usually used to treat the disease in the early stages of infection.
- Doxycycline – taken by children above eight years and adults.
- Cefuroxime = taken by both children, breastfeeding mothers, and adults.
2. Intravenous antibiotics:
In cases where the disease affects your central nervous system, intravenous antibiotics are recommended for 14-28 days.
Although they’re effective, it may take some time for you to recover completely.
Tips to Enhance Lyme disease Recovery
- Take healthy foods
- Avoid sugary foods
- Avoid stress
- Take anti-inflammatory medications to ease pain and discomfort
- Get enough sleep and rest
Scientific studies are yet to prove whether Lyme disease can be transmitted between people through air, water, food, kissing, touching, or having sex.
When to See a Doctor
Get in contact with your healthcare provider if you were recently bitten by a tick and show symptoms of Lyme disease even if the symptoms disappear.
Some people still show signs after treatment. This condition is called post-Lyme disease syndrome. Its cause is unknown, but with the help of your healthcare provider, it’s manageable.