History of this disease
Lyme disease was first discovered in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. It’s the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S. and Europe. Also, individuals who reside or spend time in wooded areas are at higher risk of contracting Lyme disease. People who take their domestic animals to wooded areas stand a higher chance of getting Lyme disease.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is an infectious disease that is gotten from the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and sometimes Borrelia mayonii. Humans are infected with this B. burgdorferi when bitten by an infected black-legged or deer tick. The insect, a tick is usually being infected after feeding on infected birds, deer, or mice.
How can I contact Borrelia burgdorferi?
An individual can get Borrelia burgdorferi after being bitten by an infected deer or black-legged tick. A tick has to be present on the skin for a minimum of 36 hours for infection to be transmitted effectively. It’s so unfortunate that most people who are infected with Lyme disease have no prior knowledge of being bitten with a tick.
According to the CDC, infected black-legged ticks spread Lyme disease across the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and North Central United States. However, western black-legged ticks spread the disease across the Pacific Coast of the United States.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Although Lyme disease is usually divided into three stages like the early localized, early disseminated, and late disseminated stages. The symptoms in these stages may overlap. It is also possible for an individual in a later stage of disease not to experience any of these early symptoms. A person with Lyme disease may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
Predominant symptoms of Lyme disease include the following:
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
- The feeling of fatigue or shortness of breath
- Experiencing muscle aches
- Numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
- Having fever
- Having a flat, circular rash that appears like a red oval or bull’s-eye anywhere on your body
- Experiencing joint pains and swelling
- Having severe headaches and neck stiffness
- Experiencing an irregular heartbeat (Lyme carditis) or heart palpitations
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Experiencing difficulties in concentrating
- Facial palsy which is the loss of muscle tone or droops on one or both sides of the face
Immediately consult your medical doctor or healthcare provider if you experience any of the above symptoms.
Can a child contact Lyme disease?
Yes, a child can contact Lyme disease and they can experience similar symptoms as adults. It includes the following:
- Experiencing muscle and joint pains
- Feeling feverish
- Fatigue and other flu-like symptoms
These symptoms are usually found soon after a person is being infected, or months or years later.
It is also possible for your child to have Lyme disease without having the bull’s-eye rash. A result of an early study shows how approximately 89 percent of children had a rash.
Is Lyme disease transmissible?
No, Lyme disease isn’t contagious as there’s no evidence that it can be transmitted between people. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC deduced that pregnant women can’t transmit the disease to their fetus through their breast milk. These bacteria that cause Lyme disease are present in bodily fluids, but there is no evidence that Lyme disease can be transmitted to another person through touching, coughing, sneezing, or kissing.
There is no evidence that shows Lyme disease can be sexually transmitted or transmitted through a blood transfusion. However, most people with Lyme disease were bitten by nymphs (immature ticks). These tiny ticks are not easily seen with the naked eyes. They feed during the spring and summer respectively.
Although adult ticks can also carry the bacteria, they can be seen easily and removed before transmitting it. There is no evidence that Lyme disease can be spread through food, air, or water.
Lyme disease can be divided into three main stages namely:
- Early localized
- Early disseminated
- Late disseminated
Your symptoms will depend on which stage the disease is in. The progression of Lyme disease varies in individuals as some people who have it don’t go through all three stages.
Early localized disease stage
Here, symptoms of Lyme disease usually begin 1 to 2 weeks after being bitten by the tick. Bull’s-eye rash is one of the earliest signs of the disease in this stage.
The rash is found at the site of the tick bite, usually, but not always, as a central red spot surrounded by a clear spot with an area of redness at the edge. Its rashes may appear warm when touched, but are not painful and don’t itch. In most people, this rash may gradually fade away on its own.
Erythema migrans is the formal name for this rash. Although Erythema migrans are known to be a characteristic of Lyme disease many people don’t have this symptom.
Some individuals may have solid red rashes while people who are dark in complexions have their rashes look like a bruise. The rash can come with or without systemic viral or flu-like symptoms.
The following are other symptoms mostly found in this early localized disease stage:
- Having fever
- Experiencing sore throat
- Feeling of fatigue
- Experiencing enlarged lymph nodes
- Having blurred visions
- Muscle aches
Early disseminated Lyme disease stage
This second stage occurs several weeks to months after being bitten by the tick. You may experience a general feeling of being unwell, and a rash may appear in areas other than the tick bite. In this stage, its disease is mainly characterized by evidence of systemic infection i.e. its infection has spread throughout the body, including to other organs.
It includes the following symptoms:
- Irregular heart rhythm, which can be attributed to Lyme carditis
- Multiple erythema multiforme (EM) lesions
- Tingling, numbness, cranial and facial nerve palsies, and meningitis
Have in mind that the symptoms of stages 1 and 2 can overlap.
Late disseminated Lyme disease stage
This third stage occurs when infection in stage I and 2 have not been successfully treated. The late disseminated Lyme disease stage can occur months or years after being bitten by a tick. You can discover the following in this stage:
- An individual may experience arthritis in one or more large joints
- Numbness in the arms, hands, legs, or feet
- Brain impairment, such as encephalopathy, which is attributed to short-term memory loss, difficulty concentrating, mental fogginess, issues with following conversations and sleep disturbance
How can I diagnose Lyme disease?
You can diagnose Lyme disease by beginning with a review of your health history. This involves detailing any reports of tick bites or residence in an endemic area.
Your medical doctor can perform a physical examination to check for the presence of a rash or other symptoms associated with Lyme disease.
Have in mind that testing during early localized infection isn’t recommended.
However, blood tests are most reliable a few weeks after the initial infection, when antibodies are found.
You may be required to perform the following tests as recommended by your medical doctor:
Western blot: This is used to confirm a positive ELISA test. It helps ascertain the presence of antibodies to specific B. burgdorferi proteins.
ELISA (Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay): It’s used to detect antibodies against B. burgdorferi.
PCR (Polymerase chain reaction): According to this study, it is used to evaluate people with persistent Lyme arthritis or nervous system symptoms. It can be carried out on cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) or joint fluid. It’s so unfortunate that PCR testing on the cerebrospinal fluid is not routinely recommended because of low sensitivity.
Being found negative against PCR doesn’t rule out your diagnosis so don’t assume all is well. In contrast, most individuals will have positive PCR results in joint fluid if tested before undergoing antibiotic therapy.
Optimal treatment for Lyme disease
For optimal treatment of Lyme disease, it should be done in its early stages. Treatment involving early localized disease is simply a 10-14-day course of oral antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
The following are the medications used to treat Lyme disease effectively:
Cefuroxime and amoxicillin: These drugs are used to treat women who are breastfeeding or nursing
Doxycycline, cefuroxime, or amoxicillin: These are first point treatments in children and adults
Intravenous (IV) antibiotics: IV antibiotics are used to treat some forms of Lyme disease, including those with cardiac or CNS (central nervous system) involvement.
After improvement and to finish the course of treatment, most healthcare providers will typically switch to an oral plan. Its complete course of treatment usually lasts between 14-28 days.
An individual can be treated with Lyme arthritis, (a late-stage symptom of Lyme disease present in some people) using oral antibiotics for 28 days.
If you continue to experience symptoms after successful treatment for Lyme disease with antibiotics, it is known as post Lyme disease syndrome or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
A 2016 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine deduced that about 10-20 percent of people with Lyme disease experience this syndrome. Although its cause is unknown.
Have in mind that Post-Lyme disease syndrome can affect an individual’s mobility and cognitive skills. The primary aim of its treatment is to alleviate pain and discomfort. Although most people do recover and it can take months or years depending on the person’s immune system.
How to remove a tick
Never panic if you discover a tick is being attached to your skin, simply remove the tick as soon as possible. You can also use a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers to get rid of the tick from your body with ease.
Here are some steps to follow in removing a tick from your skin:
- Fine-tipped tweezers should be used to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Try pulling upward with steady, even pressure. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick as this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain inside your skin. In case of such occurrences, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you’re unable to get rid of the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and allow your skin to heal.
- After getting rid of the tick, immensely clean the bite site and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- You are advised against crushing the tick with your fingers. Get rid of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed container/bag, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it in the water system.
Follow-up after being bitten by a tick
Where you discover a rash or fever within several weeks of getting rid of a tick, consult your doctor for optimal help. For optimal help, make sure you tell your doctor about your recent tick bite, when it occurs, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Never indulge in folklore remedies like painting the tick with nail petroleum jelly or polish, or using heat to make the tick fall off from your skin. Your main aim is to get rid of the tick as soon as possible instead of waiting for it to detach on its own.
How to live with this bacterial infection
After successful treatment for Lyme disease with antibiotics, it may take weeks or months for all the symptoms to fade away.
Here are a few steps to help accelerate your recovery:
- Get adequate rest
- Take your anti-inflammatory medications were necessary as approved by your doctor to ease pain and discomfort
- Avoid stressing yourself excessively
- Consume healthy foods and avoid foods that are high in sugar
How can I prevent Lyme disease?
You can reduce your chance of having Lyme disease by decreasing your risk of being bitten by a tick. Adhere to the following tips to help prevent tick bites:
- Avoid making your yard or environment-friendly to ticks by clearing wooded sites, keeping underbrush to a minimum, and putting woodpiles in places with lots of suns.
- Try using oil of lemon eucalyptus as it gives the same protection as DEET when used in similar concentrations. Never use it on children under the age of 3 years old.
- Get rid of ticks with tweezers by applying them near the head or the mouth of the tick and pull carefully. Make sure all tick parts have been removed to avoid further problems.
- Learn to wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts when in the outdoors.
- Try using insect repellent especially the one with 10 percent DEET as it can help protect you for about 2 hours. Avoid using more DEET than the one being recommended while being outside. You’re advised never to use it on the faces or hands of young children under the age of 2 months old.
- Be alert. Check your children, pets, and yourself for ticks. Never assume that you can’t be infected with Lyme disease simply because you’ve been treated successfully. You can get Lyme disease more than once in your lifetime.
Consult your doctor or healthcare provider if and whenever you’re bitten by ticks.
This article is being written by one of our writers Ndiana-Abasi Kingsley Inyang.