What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by four main species of bacteria. The disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected deer tick. Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC. However, research suggests that around 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year.
The best way to prevent getting infected with Lyme disease is to wooded, bushy areas with long grass. Other ways to prevent Lyme disease include:
- Cover exposed skin when spending time in wooded or grassy areas
- Use an insect repellent with a DEET concentration of 20 percent or higher
- Check for ticks after spending time outdoors
- Remove ticks as soon as possible with a pair of tweezers and apply antiseptic to the bite area
Signs of Lyme disease vary case by case and usually appear in stages. Within a month after being affected, a rash will appear at the spot of the tick bite. The rash, known as erythema migrans, usually forms in a bulls-eye pattern; a clear center with a ring of redness surrounding it. This is typically not a painful or itchy rash. Often, flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills and fatigue accompany the rash.
If Lyme goes untreated, then further symptoms will appear. These can include erythema migrans spreading to other parts of your body; severe joint pain usually localized to knees but can shift to other joints; and neurological problems, such as meningitis, Bell’s palsy, impaired muscle movement, and numbness or weakness in your limbs.
Less common symptoms that develop after several weeks include heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat, that typically lasts a few days or weeks; eye inflammation; liver inflammation; and severe fatigue.
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. Oral antibiotics are the standard solution for early-stage Lyme disease. If the disease involves your nervous system, a doctor will often recommend intravenous antibiotics for 14-28 days. The sooner treatment begins, the faster and more complete the recovery will be. After treatment, some people still experience some Lyme symptoms, like muscle weakness and fatigue. Known as post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, the cause of this is unknown and is not helped with further use of antibiotics.