What, exactly, is Lyme Disease?

Posted on September 5, 2016 by kerri

Image of an adult male and adult female tick. The female is larger and about 7 mm from foot to foot. The male is about 6 mm wide from foot to foot.
Some ticks that carry Lyme disease, and their size. Image by Dr. Pete Teel via Texas A&M AgriLife.

While I was in the Provincial Park Museum recently picking up some brochures for a family friend who was spending a week at our cabin, I came across a brochure on Lyme Disease. I grew up spending a lot of time at the cabin (not necessarily the outdoors) and have come across a proportional number of ticks—the critters that spread Lyme Disease—over the years. While I’ve read the Wikipedia articles from time to time, this brochure is really what helped me get a good sense of what Lyme Disease is.

While we are past prime Lyme season right now—that’s May to July—being aware of the symptoms of Lyme is important, as it can take awhile to develop symptoms. Symptoms of Lyme are usually developed within 3-30 days of a tick bite. That means that in Early September—or even later—it’s still possible to develop symptoms of Lyme Disease [1].
Lyme Disease is caused by an infection spread by certain type of ticks, usually blacklegged ticks [1]. Symptoms include an expanding red rash, which is not itchy and does not make the skin feel tender. Generally, Lyme symptoms are “non-specific” and may simply feel like a bad cold or flu—headache, tiredness, fever or chills, muscle and joint pain or stiffness, and stiffness in the neck and swelling of the lymph nodes (glands in the neck). [1] These symptoms are very common of a variety of illnesses and infections, so it’s important to react if you have been bitten by a tick.
If a physician suspects Lyme based on your symptoms, they will prescribe a 2-3 week course of antibiotics to get rid of the infection, caused by the bacteria released by the tick. [1] The earlier the antibiotics are started, the better.
After being infected with the Lyme disease bacteria, and treated, some people experience symptoms of Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome, or Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome [2]. Similar to the initial symptoms of Lyme, people with Post-Lyme Disease Syndrome experience disruptions in mental clarity or thinking (like “brain fog”), confusion, pain in muscles and joints, and tiredness [1]. This may be caused by residual immune system damage, and studies have noted that though the symptoms are certainly real, additional treatment with antibiotics will not help. [2] Treating Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome will often simply consist of rest, good nutrition, and ensuring good health habits, similar to treatment of some conditions which do not yet have effective treatments, like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. [2] Other undiagnosed health issues may cause similar symptoms to Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome, so if you have been successfully treated for Lyme Disease and still have symptoms, it is very important to see your doctor for proper diagnosis. [2]
Can Lyme disease be prevented? By reducing exposure to ticks, you can prevent tick bites that cause Lyme disease. Using well groomed trails and remaining at the centre of these outdoor paths may help avoid ticks jumping onto your body. Light coloured, long sleeved shirts and long pants, and tucking in shirts, pants and socks can help create a barrier between ticks and your body. Tick repellants also exist and can help you avoid ticks. Upon returning indoors, check thoroughly for ticks on adults, children and pets. Bathing or showering upon coming indoors can also help find ticks, and ensure that all items that were outdoors have been checked to prevent ticks from going unnoticed! [1] And remember… you’re not home free if you find one tick and get rid of it, whether by simply picking it up or pulling it out of the skin with tweezers (ensuring to grip as low as possible and making sure the head is not left behind under the skin)—keep checking until you know you are tick-free!

Leave Comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
*