by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness that is known as ” the most common tick-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere.” Lyme disease was first diagnosed in Connecticut in 1975, though it wasn’t until 1978 that the cause was determined to be a deer tick. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to humans from the bite of a whitetail deer tick. Immature ticks are the major carriers of the bacteria that causes lyme disease causing most of the infections. Because these ticks are so small they frequently go unnoticed and their bite rarely causes the victim to itch or feel pain.
Though lyme disease is the most common seen tick-borne illness it is actually quite rare. There are some estimates that only 1% of tick bites actually develop into lyme disease. One of the reasons for this is that the tick must be attached to the host for at least 24-36 hours in order for transmission of the bacteria to occur. The reason it appears as if there are actually more incidence of lyme disease is because in recent years more and more people are moving and settling in areas that previously had only been inhabited by wildlife putting more humans into contact with potentially disease carrying ticks. Then add the increased interest in wilderness hiking and camping and it gives the illusion that the incidence of lyme disease is greater than it actually is.
Lyme disease occurs in 3 stages:
Stage 1. The infection is early and localized, it hasn’t spread throughout the body yet.
Stage 2. Is when thee infection starts to spread throughout the body.
Stage 3. The infection is late and has spread throughout the body.
The most recognizable symptom of the early localized infection is the appearance of a rash at the bite site. The rash is known as erythema migrans or EM. EM is a rash that has a”bullseye” appearance with the center being dark red and slightly raised. The rash can appear anywhere from 3 days to a month after the bite. Though rash may be warm it is usually painless and frequently mistaken as an allergic reaction so it isn’t always reported before it disappears in 3-4weeks. This rash is distinct to lyme disease and because it is so distinct to lyme disease it is frequently diagnosed and treatment initiated soley on the appearance of this particular rash. Though the rash is not seen in all lyme disease cases it is seen in approximately 80% of known cases.
Other symptoms that a patient can have during the early stage of infection include a feeling of general malaise, fever and headache. Once the infection begins to spread throughout the body the EM can develop in other areas on the body not related to the bite site. Other symptoms the infection is progressing include facial muscles becoming weak or even having some paralysis, the knees and other large joints will get swollen and painful resembling arthritis, there may also be some cardiac problems. If left untreated, the infection will eventually spread throughout the entire body. When this happens, the existing symptoms become much more severe and other parts of the body develop symptoms like the brain and eyes. Left untreated, the symptoms can become disabling even permanent paralysis can occur.
The primary treatment for lyme disease is antibiotic therapy. The type of antibiotic, and length of time treatment is required depends upon the stage in which it began. When diagnosed in the early stages treatment is usually oral (by mouth) antibiotics for anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Once the infection has spread treatment is dependent on laboratory results determining the severity of the infection.
Prevention and early detection are the keys to enjoying te great outdoors without serious consequences. Always visually inspect your entire body after spending time outside and remove any ticks. Remember the tick must be attached to your body for at least 24 hours for the nbacteria to be transmitted so if you’re on a prolonged camping trip be sure to inspect your body every 12-24 hours. Know the early symptoms of lyme disease and inform your doctor immediately, the sooner diagnosis and treatment begins the greater the chance of complete recovery.