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June 15th, 2012
Lyme disease is an infection that is usually spread by ticks (and sometimes other insects) that carry the bacterium. You can get Lyme disease if you are bitten by an infected tick. Most people who have had a tick bite, however, do not get Lyme disease because only about 25% of ticks are infected. It’s still important to see your doctor if you have a tick attached to you that you can't remove because attached body parts can be a focus for skin infections. Lyme disease is quite common in the United States but is also endemic to Canada, Europe, and Asia.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi . Infected ticks spread the bacteria by biting people or animals.
Two types of ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria in the U.S. They are:
Deer ticks: They spread the disease in the Northeast and Midwest.
Western black-legged ticks: They spread the disease along the Pacific coast, mostly in northern California and Oregon.
Ticks must be removed as soon as you notice them. Infected ticks usually don't spread Lyme disease until they have been attached for at least 36 hours.
Symptoms and signs
One of the most obvious signs of Lyme disease is a round, red rash that spreads at the site of a tick bite. This rash can get very large and ultimately disappear. Flu-like symptoms are also very common. People in the early stages of Lyme disease may feel very tired and have headaches, sore muscles and joints, and a fever. These symptoms can start at any time, from 3 days up to a month after a tick has bitten. Some people don't have any symptoms when they are in the early stages of Lyme disease. Most people do not even remember getting a tick bite.
If Lyme disease goes untreated, you can have more serious symptoms over time which include: Swelling and joint pain (like arthritis); Tingling and numbness in your hands, feet, and back; A lack of energy that does not improve; Trouble focusing thoughts; Poor memory; Weakness or paralysis of face muscles.
Your doctor will take a thorough history and ask you questions about your symptoms. A round, red rash may be a sign of Lyme disease. Your doctor will also ask about your activities (especially outdoor activities) to try to find out if you have been around infected ticks. You may have a blood test to see if you have certain antibodies in your blood that may mean you have the disease.
The main treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics. These medicines usually cure Lyme disease within 3 weeks of starting treatment depending on the extent and involvement of disease. It’s important to get treatment for Lyme disease as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor if you have had a tick attached to your skin, especially if you live in an area where Lyme disease has been reported. Look for early signs of the disease as described above.
If it goes untreated, Lyme disease can lead to problems with your skin, joints, nervous system, and heart. These can occur weeks, months, or even years after your tick bite. The problems often improve with antibiotics, but in very rare cases they can last the rest of your life.
Protecting yourself from ticks is the best way to avoid Lyme disease. Cover up as much skin as you can when you're going to be in wooded or grassy areas. Wear a hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks. It’s easier to see ticks on light-colored clothes. Use a bug spray that has the chemical DEET to repel ticks. You can spray it right on your skin. Check your pets for ticks after they've been outside. You can't get Lyme disease from your pet. But your pet can bring infected ticks inside. These ticks can fall off your pet and attach to you.