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July 13, 2022 | General Wellness

5 Things to Know About Lyme Disease

Beware of ticks sign next to a bench

Spending time in nature can have many health benefits; you can get exercise from a walk or hike, breathe in some fresh air, and even reduce stress and anxiety by spending time outside1.

However, while you’re enjoying your time outside, there are sometimes insects and other critters waiting nearby. In heavily wooded areas, ticks are present and can pass on bacteria.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that you get from the bite of an infected tick2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease3 annually.

While tick bites can happen throughout the year, most incidents occur during the summer months due to people spending more time outdoors and engaging in activities like camping and hiking. To stay safe this summer, we have the information you need to know about Lyme disease including Lyme disease symptoms and testing options.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads from blacklegged ticks, also commonly called deer ticks. The ticks are infected with a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi and then pass that bacterium onto humans through a bite. Infected ticks can attach to any part of your body but are often located in hard-to-see areas including your groin, armpits, and scalp. The infected tick must be attached to your body for 36 to 48 hours (or longer) to spread the bacterium to you1.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease symptoms start appearing between 3 to 30 days after the bite. Initial Lyme disease symptoms may include2:

  • Erythema migrans (EM) rash that has the nickname “bullseye rash” for resembling a bullseye
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Swollen lymph nodes

The rash occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of people infected with Lyme disease4. It will begin at the site of the tick bite and gradually expand over a few days. While the rash may feel warm to the touch, it’s rarely itchy or painful4.

If the infection is left untreated, it can begin to spread to your joints, heart, and nervous system. In this case, additional Lyme disease symptoms may include2:

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Additional bullseye rashes in other areas of your body
  • Weakness of facial muscles
  • Arthritis
  • Pain that comes and goes in your tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting paints, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet

How to test for Lyme disease

The CDC recommends a two-tier approach for Lyme disease testing5. A blood sample is collected and then evaluated to determine a Lyme disease diagnosis.

  • If the first test result is negative, no further testing is needed.
  • If the first rest result is positive, the blood sample will get a second test.
  • If both results are positive and Lyme disease symptoms are present, a Lyme disease diagnosis is usually confirmed.

Is Lyme disease curable?

When caught early, most cases of Lyme disease can be cured with a 2- to 4-week course of oral antibiotics6. In some cases, patients can have symptoms of pain, fatigue, or difficulty thinking for more than six months after treatment. This condition is called Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS). Some experts believe that Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacterium that is responsible for the infection) can trigger an auto-immune response. At the moment, there isn’t a known cause or treatment plan for PTLDS6. However, patients with PTLDS get better over time, but it can take months to feel completely well again.

How to lower the risk of catching Lyme disease

To lower your risk for Lyme disease, it’s important to keep yourself safe when enjoying certain outdoor activities. Some tips include2:

  • Avoid areas where ticks live (grassy, brushy or wooded areas)
  • If you’re in those areas, wear insect repellent with DEET
  • Wear a long sleeve shirt and long pants, tuck your shirt into your pants and pants into socks to reduce the risk of a tick getting on your skin
  • Check yourself, children, and pets daily for ticks
  • Take a shower and wash and dry clothes at high temperatures after being outdoors

Sources:

  1. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/spend-time-in-nature-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/lymedisease.html
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/stats/humancases.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html
  5. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/lyme-disease-tests/
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/postlds/index.html

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