The bite of spider-like creatures called Ixodes ticks, also known as deer ticks and black-legged ticks, which carry a corkscrew-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdoferi causes Lyme disease (LD). People who take part in outdoor activities in wooded areas likely to harbor ticks and areas with overgrown vegetation are more at risk of developing Lyme disease. Ticks bite into the skin and feed on the blood, and it may take 36 to 48 hours before causing infection. If undisturbed it can feed for several days. But being bitten by a tick doesn’t necessarily mean that one will get infected because not all ticks are infected. However, incidence rates have increased significantly over time.
Depending on the stage of infection, typical symptoms of Lyme disease include headache, fatigue, fever, nausea, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, neck stiffness, swollen lymph nodes, facial paralysis, arthritis, and a peculiar circular skin rash known as erythema migrans at the site of the bite. The rash often appears within 7-14 days of the bite in the armpits, groins, back of the knee, and nape of the neck, as ticks prefer body creases. However, it is important to remember that one in three people with the disease will not develop this rash.
LD is diagnosed based on the possibility of exposure to ticks and the symptoms. However, many of the symptoms are akin to other conditions including depression. Hence, patients with Lyme disease are often misdiagnosed, and this delays the correct treatment as the infection progresses unchecked. So it is important for the patient to see the physician immediately and let the doctor know if you have spent time in areas where ticks are likely to live.
Laboratory testing is useful only if performed with validated methods. It is usually not recommended, as the blood tests can be inaccurate in the early stages. However, tests can be performed a month after the beginning of the suspected infection as then they are considered to be more reliable.
Lyme disease can be treated successfully with appropriate antibiotics such as amoxicillin, doxycycline, or cefuroxime axetil. Depending on the stage of the state the course can last from 2 to 4 weeks. It is important to finish the course to ensure it kills all bacteria. Recovery is rapid and complete if treated in the early stages. If symptoms are severe, patients may move from acute infection (Phase 1) to chronic infection where the bacteria enter the patient’s cells (Phase 2). Worst-case scenario of chronic Lyme is the autoimmune stage where, in an attempt to kill a hiding pathogen, the body begins making antibodies to its own cells (Phase 3)