Lyme disease or Lyme borreliosis is a contagion contracted by the bite of a tick infected by bacteria of the genus Borrelia (mainly by the species Borrelia burgdorferi) after biting other infected animals such as cows, sheep or dogs.
It was discovered in 1976 and was given this name due to the existence of numerous cases in the American city of Lyme.
The bite is usually painless; in 60% of cases, a characteristic stain may appear several days after the bite. It is usually a slowly growing red spot (about 5 cm), which fades in the centre (like a doughnut) and surrounds by several red rings (like a bulls-eye).
The infection treats with antibiotics, but some symptoms, such as joint pain, may persist later, up to 6 months after being cured (post-Lyme syndrome).
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Early Signs and Symptoms (3 to 30 days after tick bite)
- Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and combined aches, and swollen lymph nodes.
- Erythema migrans (migratory erythema) type rash :
- It appears in about 70 to 80% of infected people.
- It starts at the tick bite place after 3 to 30 days (the average is about seven days).
- It grows gradually over several days and can be 12 inches (30 cm) or more across.
- The problem may feel hot to the touch but rarely stings or hurts.
- It sometimes lightens as it enlarges, producing the appearance of a bull’s eye.
- It can occur anywhere in the body.
Signs and symptoms later (days to months after the tick bite)
- Severe headaches and stiff neck.
- Additional erythema migrans-type rashes on other parts of the body.
- Arthritis with severe pain and swelling in the joints, particularly the knees and other large joints.
- Cerebral palsy (loss of muscle tone or drooping on one or both sides of the face).
- Intermittent pain in the tendons, muscles, joints and bones.
- Palpitations or irregular heartbeat ( Lyme carditis ).
- Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath.
- Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
- Throbbing pain, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.
- Problems with short-term memory.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria named Borrelia burgdorferi ( B burgdorferi ). Black-legged ticks (also called deer ticks) can carry these bacteria. Not all species of ticks have bacteria. Immature ticks are called nymphs and are about the size of a pinhead. The nymphs acquire the bacteria when they feed on small rodents, such as mice infected with Burgdorfer. You can only get the sickness if an infected tick bites you.
Lyme disease was first reported in the United States in 1977 in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut. The same illness happens in many parts of Europe and Asia. In the United States, most Lyme disease infections occur in the following areas:
- Northeastern states, from Virginia to Maine
- Northcentral states, primarily Wisconsin and Minnesota
- West Coast, mainly in the Northwest
There are three stages of Lyme disease.
- Stage 1, calls early localised Lyme disease. The bacteria has not yet spread through the body.
- Stage 2 calls for early disseminated Lyme disease. The bacteria have begun to spread throughout the body.
- Stage 3 is called late, given Lyme disease. The bacteria have spread throughout the body.
How to prevent Lyme disease
The most effective method to avoid Lyme disease is to take the following precautions that will help you prevent and detect a tick bite:
1. Be cautious when walking through wooded or grassy areas
Stay on the trails and wear clothing that covers your skin: long sleeves and pants, socks, and closed-toe shoes. If possible, tuck the pants into the stocking. Wear light-coloured clothing that helps to see ticks if they have settled on apparel. Avoid sitting on the ground, especially if there is vegetation.
2. Use repellents against insects that contain DEET (N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) at 20-30%
Apply them on clean and dry skin and follow the instructions on the package.
3. When you return from the field, check your body carefully
Inspect your skin for possible ticks, especially in your armpits, groin, hair, and behind your knees. You can take advantage of the moment of the shower when the skin is exposed. Therefore, do the same with your children and check your pets thoroughly too.
4. Check and wash the clothes you have worn in the field at sixty degrees
In this way, you will eliminate the ticks that have been able to remain hidden in them. You can too dry it in the dryer at the same temperature.
5. If you find any ticks, remove them immediately
Removing it with blunt forceps and gently pulling it perpendicular to the skin is essential. So if you do not have this type of tweezers, you can gently stretch them without crushing them. The reason is to prevent the tick from regurgitating when removing it. Disinfect the bite area and stay calm. Contact your health centre, and if you can, keep the tick in a container so they can see what species it is. Do not use gasoline, petroleum, oil or heat to remove it.
6. Always keep your pets healthy, checked and following the veterinarian’s recommendations for antiparasitic
Today some pills and collars prevent pets (especially those accompanying us to the field) from contracting ticks. So consult with your veterinarian to inform you properly.
What does your treatment consist of?
Treatment of the infection is built on administering antibiotics for several weeks to relieve symptoms and, if administered early, help prevent complications. Likewise, antibiotics can help treat arthritis and most of the neurological and cardiac disorders caused by Lyme disease and prevent its progression in stages.
In turn, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen can help relieve the pain of inflamed joints.
After the treatment, fatigue and muscle and joint pain may remain, so while the symptoms disappear, it is essential to rest and avoid physical exercise.
The infection usually occurs outdoors in wooded areas, tall grasslands or where there are cattle and mainly in spring and summer. For this reason, although it is not a very common disease, it is more common in people who work in areas with a lot of vegetation, such as forest guards and gardeners, hikers and in children, because they spend much time outdoors, and in people who live with pets.