Lyme disease is a bacterial illness transmitted to humans through the bite of infected deer ticks or blacklegged ticks. These ticks tend to live in wooded or grassy areas and can be found throughout the United States. Early symptoms of the disease can include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash. If the disease is not adequately treated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, the nervous system and other parts of the body. More than 300,000 people in the US are diagnosed every year.
It is often diagnosed based on the presence of a skin rash, symptoms and an individual’s possible exposure to ticks. Laboratory tests for Lyme disease can be unreliable. Many cases of Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics and cured within a few weeks. However, if it is not detected early or the early treatment does not work, a chronic (and more dangerous) form of Lyme disease can develop.
Lyme disease often gets misdiagnosed, because its symptoms can mimic other illnesses. A bull’s-eye-shaped rash can be a telltale sign, but rashes caused by Lyme disease do not always appear in this shape. In addition, many people do not get rashes at all. Symptoms of Lyme disease may include general aches and pains, sweats and chills, fatigue and fever. If the disease worsens and becomes chronic, it can have damaging effects on the brain and nervous system, heart and circulation, digestion, skin and reproductive system. It can also disrupt cognitive function and sometimes trigger psychiatric conditions. While early stages of the disease may cause people to temporarily take off time from school, work or other activities, chronic forms of the disease can have long-term consequences on one’s ability to work or complete their daily routine.
The diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is complicated by the fact that ticks can carry and transmit multiple bacteria, viruses and/or protozoa. A person who is bitten by a tick may become infected by Lyme and several other pathogens at the same time. Some of the most prominent of these co-infections are babesia, bartonella, and anaplasma. The majority of chronic Lyme patients report at least one co-infection. 30 percent of individuals affected report two or more.
As the rate of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases continues to grow, it’s important for people to learn how to protect themselves from ticks and the illnesses they can carry.