As a tick-borne illness, Lyme disease is a serious concern for people all across the United States. If the disease isn’t treated soon after exposure, it can cause debilitating pain, weakness, and other chronic impairments. Learn more about what Lyme disease is, the symptoms, and how to prevent Lyme disease.
What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Humans contract the disease through bites from deer ticks and black-legged ticks. Most commonly found in the Midwest and the northeastern US, individuals suffering from Lyme disease are also spread all across the country, as well as in 60 other countries. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme is the most widespread disease spread by animals in the US.
Lyme generally isn’t fatal. However, people with untreated Lyme disease experience chronic pain and disabilities. Lyme impairs the functioning of organs and causes mental impairments, pain, and inflammation in the muscles and joints. The disease can also weaken the heart and affects the central nervous system.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
The CDC offers a list of some of the signs of Lyme Disease:
Initial exposure (within 30 days of infection, but usually at least three days after exposure):
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, body aches, headache, and swollen lymph nodes)
- Erythema Migrans rash, which is frequently warm but rarely itchy or painful. This “bullseye rash” is characteristic of Lyme infection, and starts at the site of the tick bite but expands over the course of several days.
If identified and treated within the first few days or weeks of exposure, Lyme can usually be successfully treated.
After initial exposure, additional symptoms may appear (sometimes days, months or even years later):
- Headaches and neck stiffness
- Nerve pain, tingling in hands and feet
- Short-term memory loss
- Pain throughout body (muscles, bones, joints, tendons)
- Facial palsy
- Heart problems
Why is Lyme Disease Such a Problem?
Medical professionals admit that because the symptoms mimic so many other illnesses, chronic Lyme is difficult to diagnose and treat effectively.The informational and advocacy website LymeDisease.org calls Lyme “The Great Imitator” for just this reason. It is often confused as being everything from fibromyalgia to multiple sclerosis, and as long as Lyme isn’t detected, proper treatment cannot proceed.
Furthermore, there are disputes within the medical community about how to treat Lyme. There doesn’t seem to be a single antibiotic that is effective against the bacteria, and it can be hard to treat adequately, because the bacteria embed themselves deep into tissues. Relapses are common, even with aggressive antibiotic treatment.
How to Prevent Lyme Disease
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to avoid getting bitten by ticks in the first place. The Mayo Clinic offers some suggestions:
- Use insect repellents rated for ticks. Repellents with DEET are especially effective for ticks.
- When in woods or areas with tall grasses, wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck your pants into your socks.
- Clear brush and woodpiles around your home if ticks are a problem.
- Shower as soon as you get home, and throw all clothing into the laundry. Ticks often take hours before they attach, so it’s possible to wash them down the drain.
- Always do a “tick check” after spending time outside. Be sure to check children and pets as well. Be sure to look for ticks in out of the way places, including under arms, behind ears, in the belly button, between the legs, etc.
- If you find a tick, remove it with tweezers, being careful not to squeeze or crush it.
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