Think you know Lyme disease? You’ve probably heard of Lyme disease, but if you’re like most people, you don’t really know what it is. You know that you don’t want to contract it and that the infection can be long-term—but do you know the symptoms?
Lyme disease is a condition fraught with misconceptions because it can have so many symptoms, which might not show up for months or even years. Read on to learn more about Lyme disease and how you can avoid it.
What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is one of the most common illnesses spread by the blacklegged tick (the Ixodes scapularis, if you’re curious) in the U.S. and Europe.
Why do they misspell the word Lime? A little bit of trivia for you: the name comes from Lyme, Connecticut, where the first outbreak was detected in the 1970s.
Where is Lyme? Sadly, well beyond the borders of Connecticut. Lyme has been spotted throughout the East Coast (Virginia through Maine) and the Midwest (specifically, Minnesota and Wisconsin). In fact, over the last 10 years, Lyme has been reported in every state in the continental U.S.
What are the symptoms of acute Lyme infection? The symptoms of Lyme are extremely variable and manifest in three stages over months to years. The first symptom is a rash, usually around 7 to 14 days after the tick bite. While 80 percent of people will have a rash at the tick-bite site, only 30 percent of people will have the classic bull’s-eye rash. Early on, you may also have some nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, low-grade fever, mild joint or muscle aches. Over the next days to weeks, Lyme can progress to more widespread symptoms, including problems with the heart rhythm or heart inflammation, and even meningitis.
I hear you can get Lyme symptoms months or years later – is this true? Months to years after an infection, you can develop what’s called “late disease,” which involves muscle and joint pain and, rarely, nerve symptoms.
Is there a treatment? Yes. Lyme disease can usually be treated by a course of oral or IV antibiotics depending on its stage.
Can you develop “chronic Lyme disease”? This is hotly debated. It’s definitely true that some patients can experience Lyme disease symptoms for several months after they have completed their antibiotics, but there’s no evidence that repeat antibiotics can be helpful (and at times, they can be harmful). Some doctors call these symptoms “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome,” meaning that you no longer have the infection, but have remaining symptoms. My concern with this? What’s been initially described as “chronic Lyme disease” has in some cases, been found to be other conditions, including cancer, sleep apnea, autoimmune conditions, or uncontrolled endocrine disorders. So, it’s crucial to rule out and address other potentially harmful conditions first.
Can you get tested? Yes. There is a blood test and a cerebrospinal fluid test. Both test for the presence of antibodies to Lyme, which is why it’s often negative in the first few weeks—your body hasn’t produced antibodies yet.
- In the first few weeks of infection, generally when a rash begins to develop, testing for Lyme can produce a negative. So, if you’ve been in an area where the deer tick resides and have a rash characteristic of Lyme, your physician will often prescribe you antibiotic treatment based on your clinical symptoms.
- If you’ve had the illness for a few weeks and have not yet received treatment, these tests would likely detect a “positive” response, indicating acute illness.
- For most people, these antibodies will start to decline once you’ve been successfully treated. However, for some, the antibody rates remain present for years even if you no longer have the infection. A positive test does not necessarily mean you’re still infected.
Lyme disease does not have a cure.
Lyme disease is treatable and often disappears with treatment. Only a small percentage of patients experience prolonged symptoms.
If you’ve never had the bull’s-eye rash, you don’t have Lyme disease.
False! It is possible to have Lyme disease if you’ve never had a rash. Only 70-80 percent of patients develop a rash.
You can get Lyme disease from a pet.
It’s not Fido’s fault…well, not entirely. You can’t get Lyme disease from a pet, but pets can carry ticks.
Got other questions about Lyme? Or other topics you’d like to see covered? Tweet me @DrDarria or let me know on Facebook at Dr. Darria Long Gillespie. Be sure to tag and follow @SharecareInc on Twitter and Facebook, too, for the latest health news!