Lyme Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments And Prevention
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks, which feed on the blood of animals and humans, can harbor the bacteria and spread it when feeding.
You’re more likely to get Lyme disease if you live or spend time in grassy and heavily wooded areas where ticks carrying the disease thrive. It’s important to take common-sense precautions in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent.
If you’re treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you’re likely to recover completely. In later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate treatment.
Early signs and symptoms
These signs and symptoms may occur within a month after you’ve been infected:
Flu-like symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.
Later signs and symptoms
In some people, the rash may spread to other parts of the body and, several weeks to months after you’ve been infected, you may experience:
Joint pain. You may develop bouts of severe joint pain and swelling. Your knees are especially likely to be affected, but the pain can shift from one joint to another.
Neurological problems. Weeks, months or even years after you were infected, you may experience inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain (meningitis), temporary paralysis of one side of your face (Bell’s palsy), numbness or weakness in your limbs, and impaired muscle movement.
Less common signs and symptoms
Several weeks after infection, some people develop:
Heart problems, such as an irregular heartbeat. Heart problems rarely last more than a few days or weeks.
Liver inflammation (hepatitis).
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is carried primarily by deer ticks. The ticks are brown and when young, they’re often no bigger than the head of a pin, which can make them nearly impossible to spot.
To contract Lyme disease, an infected deer tick must bite you. The bacteria enter your skin through the bite and eventually make their way into your bloodstream. In most cases, to transmit Lyme disease, a deer tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours. If you find an attached tick that looks swollen, it may have fed long enough to transmit bacteria. Removing the tick as soon as possible may prevent infection.
Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. In general, recovery will be quicker and more complete the sooner treatment begins.
Oral antibiotics. These are the standard treatment for early-stage Lyme disease. These usually include doxycycline for adults and children older than 8, or amoxicillin or cefuroxime for adults, younger children, and pregnant or chest-feeding women. A 14- to 21-day course of antibiotics is usually recommended, but some studies suggest that courses lasting 10 to 14 days are equally effective.
Intravenous antibiotics. If the disease involves the central nervous system, your doctor may recommend treatment with an intravenous antibiotic for 14 to 28 days.
The Food and Drug Administration warns against the use of bismacine, an injectable compound prescribed by some alternative medicine practitioners to treat Lyme disease. Bismacine, also known as chromacine, contains high levels of the metal bismuth. Although bismuth is safely used in some oral medications for stomach ulcers, it’s not approved for use in injectable form or as a treatment for Lyme disease. Bismacine can cause bismuth poisoning, which may lead to heart and kidney failure.
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid areas where deer ticks live, especially wooded, bushy areas with long grass. You can decrease your risk of getting Lyme disease with some simple precautions:
Wear long pants and long sleeves.
Use insect repellents.
Do your best to tick-proof your yard. Clear brush and leaves where ticks live. Keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
Check yourself, your children and your pets for ticks. Be especially vigilant after spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Deer ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin, so you may not discover them unless you search carefully. It’s helpful to shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth may be enough to remove any unattached ticks.
Don’t assume you’re immune. Even if you’ve had Lyme disease before, you can get it again.
Remove a tick as soon as possible with tweezers. Gently grasp the tick near its head or mouth. Don’t squeeze or crush the tick, but pull carefully and steadily. Once you’ve removed the entire tick, dispose of it and apply antiseptic to the bite area.