Lyme is an infectious disease which is transmitted by a bit from an infected black-legged or deer tick. The bacteria transmitted is called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is spiral-shaped and linked with multiple symptoms, making it difficult to diagnose the disease and its causes. The bacteria spreads through the bite into the skin and eventually into the bloodstream.
Lyme is divided into three stages or categories i.e., acute, early disseminated, and late disseminated. Each individual reacts to the disease and stages differently as a person may not experience the same symptoms or stages that the other person does.
A tick doesn’t imply Lyme disease. It usually takes around 36-48 hours for the tick to cause infection and become a cause of the disease. Along with the time factor, the chances of suffering from Lyme disease also depend on the kind of tick and the place where the bite occurred. As interpreted by Alan Taege, Cleveland Clinic infectious disease specialist, if the tick is removed within 48 hours, the chances of getting infected are reduced significantly.
Symptoms of Lyme disease:
Initially, the symptoms are usually mild, and most people even fail to notice these symptoms until they start to develop and start affecting the body.
Depending on the stage, Lyme disease can result in a wide range of symptoms. Different stages often show different symptoms and may become severe as the disease progresses with the stage.
The signs and symptoms that occur within a month after the infected bite include:
- The Lyme disease rash is called Erythema migrans that appears in the early stage, usually from 3 to 30 days after infection. Not every person develops a rash, and some people may develop many of them. With a bull’s eye appearance, the rash can reach up to a diameter of 12 inches.
- Other early-stage symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, nerve pain, and swollen lymph nodes, which may start to arise alongside the rashes.
Symptoms can appear weeks, months, or even years after the initial infection in the absence of treatment or if the Lyme disease treatment has proved to be ineffective. These symptoms are:
- The rashes may start to appear on other areas of the body as well.
- The person is likely to experience joint pains and swelling, which may shift from one joint to another.
- Other symptoms include inflammation of the brain, heart palpitation, sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating, numbness or weakness, and impaired muscle movement.
The factors that increase the chances of suffering from Lyme disease are:
- Deer ticks are most commonly found in heavily wooded areas, especially in the Northeast and the Midwest United States. Spending a lot of time outside increases the risk of having the disease.
- Having exposed skin increases the risk of getting a deer tick bite. To prevent oneself, prefer long sleeves, and avoid running into tall weeds and grassy areas.
- Neglecting the risk of a deer tick bite can cause the infection to spread. Removing a tick within two days can reduce the risk of having Lyme disease as the bacteria can enter the bloodstream after 36-38 hours of attachment to the skin.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Lyme can be treated with antibiotics within three months, but if the disease is left untreated for a long time, it can cause severe symptoms and become difficult to treat. The bacteria can spread to the central nervous system, muscles, joints, eyes, and heart, causing many symptoms that can be difficult for the person to go through.
A proper diagnosis requires at least a month because of the antibodies, as they take around 2-6 weeks to appear in the blood tests. Sometimes a blood test may show false results if it is done within a month of the initial infection.
Living in high-risk areas where people are commonly infected by the disease, the diagnosis can be easy without performing any tests. In these cases, the rash is distinctive enough to state the presence of the disease. If required, these tests include ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test, which detects the antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi. A western blot test is performed to confirm the diagnosis once the ELISA test indicates positive results. This test detects antibodies to several proteins of Borrelia burgdorferi.
How is it treated?
In the early stages of Lyme, oral antibiotics are the standard treatment recommended by the doctors. In the later stages, if the disease starts to affect the central nervous system, the intravenous antibiotics can be preferred to eliminate the infection. Although it is proved to be more effective in aiding from the symptoms of the disease, it is only recommended when the symptoms are severe as it can have various side-effects, including diarrhea, and decreased white blood cells in the body.
Some people also suffer from post-Lyme disease syndrome, which can cause a few symptoms to continue even after the treatment. The reason and cure are not yet known as the research for the causes and symptoms of the same are still under progress.