Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases in the United States. In fact, there are ~30,000 reported cases across the country annually. Lyme itself is caused by two bacteria: 1. Borrelia mayonii & 2. Borrelia burgdorferi. If you live in Virginia, you are likely already aware that lyme is a major problem, especially if you’re a hiker or spend a lot of time outdoors. Typically, lyme is deer tick-borne, meaning it is spread to humans through the bite of infected deer ticks. The ticks themselves pick up the bacterium by feeding on infected mice, birds and deer (hence the name).
It is fair to say that if you find a tick burrowed in your skin, it is a frightening experience; however, instead of trying to tear the tick out of your skin, you should try to remain calm. It is good to bear in mind that a tick cannot pass on lyme disease very quickly. In fact, the tick has to be latched for 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit the disease. The issue with lyme is that all too often people pick up a tick, get infected and never really know it. People who live in wooded areas or spend a lot of time in tall grass are most likely to get this disease.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Lyme disease can present itself in very different ways depending on how the individual reacts to the disease. Symptoms of Lyme disease (which often overlap) come in three stages: 1. Early Localized (1 to 4 weeks), 2. Early Disseminated (1 to 4 months), and 3. Late Disseminated.
Many people exposed to Lyme continue to live through their days comfortably and with no symptoms when in the first 2 stages of the disease. In the late disseminated stage, however, symptoms are typically not just present, but debilitating.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of Lyme disease:
- A circular or flat rash (often shaped as a bull’s eye) around the bite (present about 60% of the time)
- Swollen Joints
- Muscle Pain
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Swollen Lymph Nodes
If you experience any of the above symptoms, remember it doesn’t hurt to consult your doctor and even get tested for lyme (especially if you have found a tick on you).
Getting Tested for Lyme Disease
Diagnosing Lyme disease can be difficult as the presented symptoms are fairly common in many illnesses. Typically your doctor will be more likely to test for Lyme if an unknown rash is present, but as mentioned above, a rash is only present in about 60% of Lyme victims. If you have spent a significant amount of time outside and in tall grass/forests/wooded areas or tick infested areas, you should let your doctor know.
The blood test for Lyme diagnoses the disease by identifying antibodies present in your blood. Note that in the first 3 weeks, Lyme can only be detected in approximately 40% of tests. There is some evidence suggesting that it is better to wait for 6-8 weeks prior to testing.
Some types of Lyme disease tests include:
Also known as the Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test, this is the first type of test doctors will often user to detect Lyme disease as it identifies antibodies to Burgdorferi. There is a high likelihood that the ELISA test may produce false-positive results, meaning that it is not the most reliable.
Note: This test is only useful in the early stage of Lyme disease.
Western Blot Test
If the ELISA test comes back positive, this test is then carried out to confirm the diagnosis. The Western Blot test detects several proteins and antibodies of Burgdorferi.
Treatments for Lyme disease
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Despite popular belief that Lyme is untreatable, Lyme disease can be treated in any of its stage, but as with many illnesses, it is best to treat sooner rather than later. If your doctor has confirmed that you have Lyme, they will likely prescribe you a 14 to 28 day course of antibiotics. Antibiotics are extremely effective as Lyme is after all a bacteria. The last stage of Lyme disease (Lyme arthritis) is often treated with 1-month or more of antibiotics.
Some medicines that are used to treat Lyme are:
Is COVID-19 More Dangerous for Lyme Patients?
Several studies suggest that COVID-19 may be more severe in individuals with a co-morbidity. Because those with lyme disease have extremely weakened immune system and may already have debilitating symptoms present (such as fatigue, headaches, fever, sleeplessness, nausea, etc.), contracting COVID-19 has been shown to lead to much more severe complications.
We hope this information was helpful! We recommend that you keep insect repellant with DEET as the primary ingredient to curb ticks, keeping yourself Lyme-free. At the end of the day, wearing insect repellant is much better than contracting Lyme and dealing with the pain, confusion and complications that come with it. Be safe, fellow Virginians!