Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi as well as Borrelia mayonii. These two bacteria species are carried by ticks and, thus, Lyme disease is most common in areas where tick species are most abundant.
How common is Lyme disease in the USA?
Lyme disease is a common illness in the USA with about 30,000 cases confirmed per year. It is thought that there are likely many more cases of the illness that are simply not diagnosed and reported. Lyme disease is most common in the northeastern region of the United States, eastern Canada, and Manitoba.
Symptoms of Lyme disease
The symptoms of Lyme disease can vary from mild to more severe. Mild cases may go unnoticed because many of the symptoms are similar to the flu and arthritis so a person may mistakenly think they have these conditions rather than Lyme disease.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include the following:
- Skin rash
- Sore joints
- Bullseye marking on the skin
Note: The bullseye marking is not found in everyone who has the illness.
How is Lyme disease diagnosed?
Diagnosing Lyme disease relies on the symptoms but also on certain laboratory tests. The illness should be suspected in a person based on the likelihood of their contact with ticks. Individuals who have been in the woods in parts of Canada and the United States and who have been outdoors are most likely to have contracted the disease.
The symptoms can also lead a doctor to suspect the illness but the most diagnostic of these is the skin rash with a bullseye marking. Unfortunately, this mark is not always evident.
Laboratory tests for Lyme disease
Blood tests are done to look for antibodies to the bacteria. This is how a diagnosis can be made and confirmed. The test may need to be repeated after a couple of weeks since it may take time for antibodies to appear in the blood.
How can a person get Lyme disease?
People get Lyme disease when they are bitten by a tick that is carrying the bacteria that causes the illness. The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis is one of the main tick vectors in North America. Another tick that carries the bacterium is Ixodes pacificus (also known as the western black-legged tick).
The most common way that a person is infected is when they are bitten by the young ticks, the nymphs. These nymphs are very tiny, less than 2 mm often, so it is hard for a person to notice them. The tick has to stay attached to your body for at least 36 hours in order to infect you with the bacterium.
Adult ticks do carry the bacteria but are more likely to be noticed since they are much larger. This is why it is most often the nymphal tick stage that is vectoring the bacteria to people.
The ticks feed on the white-footed mouse which carries the bacteria. These mice are found in the forested areas of the northeastern parts of North America. Ticks do also feed on other mammals like deer, which are common throughout the country.
How Lyme disease is treated
Since Lyme disease is caused by bacteria, a course of antibiotics is prescribed to treat the condition. Many people can simply take oral antibiotics such as doxycycline or amoxicillin. However, in more severe illnesses intravenous antibiotics may be needed.
Tips to prevent Lyme disease
There are some things you can do to lessen the chance of becoming infected with the Lyme disease bacteria. Below are some tips for preventing infection.
- Try to avoid walking through tall grass in wooded areas.
- Wear long sleeve shirts and pants and closed shoes if you are going into a wooded area where ticks are found.
- Apply permethrin insecticide of 0.2% to your clothing and shoes if you are walking in the woods.
- Carefully check for ticks on clothing and on your body after your return from a walk in the woods.
- Showering as soon as you get home is a good idea as this may dislodge ticks that are not properly attached to your body.
- Check all parts of your body for ticks. If you do find a tick do not squeeze it as this could inject bacteria into your body. Rather grab the tick gently behind the mouthparts with a pair of tweezers and then pull it out.
Lyme disease is an illness that is more common than many people realize. It is particularly important to be careful and avoid contact with ticks if you are in parts of Canada and the United States where the illness is prevalent. If you do have signs that suggest Lyme disease it is important to consult with a doctor as soon as possible so that treatment can begin.
About the Author: Killem Pest
Killem Pest is a pest control company in Singapore that has been active since 1993. Their expertise is in treating all common pests in a year-round hot and humid climate.