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Mistaken for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for decades, Lyme disease was only recognized as a separate condition in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut, hence the name. It is an infectious disease transmitted to humans through Ixodes ticks, which carry the Borrelia bacteria. Every year, it affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, but experts believe that Lyme disease is one of the most neglected and misdiagnosed conditions and that the number of people who are affected by it is much larger. Although Lyme disease is not transmissible from humans to humans through food or physical contact, it can be very dangerous when not diagnosed and treated in time. The species of ticks responsible for spreading this disease – black legged or deer ticks – can be found throughout the Northern hemisphere, predominantly in the United States, Canada and Europe, which makes Lyme disease one of the most widespread infectious diseases in the world.
According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme Disease affects 300,000 Americans every year, whereas in Europe there are about 67,000 reported cases annually. Because the infection is spread by ticks, the highest incidence is in the spring and summer, when people are vulnerable to bites. Lyme disease has a favorable onset provided that it is treated quickly and the awareness campaigns initiated in the past decade have played a considerable role in reducing infection rates. However, the disease remains highly dangerous, as there is no approved vaccine for it and scientists are still working on this matter. These Lyme disease facts and statistics are important in order to understand the incidence and seriousness of the disease.
The only known cause of Lyme disease is a bite from the tick carrying the bacteria. Although apart from ticks there are a few other insects who have the Borrelia bacteria, the number of Lyme diseases caused by them is extremely small. Transmission is highly unlikely because even though scientists have found traces of Borrelia DNA is breast milk and semen, they could not find any live spirochetes.
In order for the Borrelia bacteria to enter the bloodstream, the patient must be bitten by the insect and it must stay attached between 36 and 48 hours. Typically, if the tick looks swollen, it means it has fed and has most likely managed to spread the infection. Not all ticks carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, but people who were bitten are still advised to seek medical attention immediately, even if they do not have symptoms for weeks.
Lyme disease is commonly associated by the general population with a red, round signature rash at the place of the bite, but it’s very important to point out that this is just one of the many Lyme disease symptoms and patients may react differently to the bite. The full list of Lyme disease symptoms includes:
Unfortunately, the rash is not a reliable diagnosis method because it can differ from patient to patient and sometimes it may not even be there. Up to 30% of diagnosed Lyme disease patients said that they do not recall having a rash of any type and up to 50% had not seen the tick that bit them. In some cases, albeit few, the rash can manifest in other forms, such as a raised bump or a clusters of blisters, making diagnosis more difficult.
Another important thing about the Lyme disease rash is that it does not appear immediately after the bite. The skin around the insect bite may look normal a few days after the bite, but the first sign of rash can appear even after 30 days, after the infection had already started to spread.
Apart from fatigue, other flu-like symptoms that may appear in Lyme disease cases include headaches and fever. These usually set in seven days after the bite and are usually confused with the flu/common cold and treated with over-the-counter drugs. The presence of flu-like symptoms is of course very confusing for patients, but one way to differentiate Lyme-disease symptoms from the flu is again the pattern. If fever, headaches, dizziness and tiredness come and go, without following the track of the flu, they are most likely something else. A flu without a sore throat, running nose or cough requires medical investigation.
Because the diversity and irregularity of Lyme disease symptoms, Lyme disease is one of the most undiagnosed conditions. Many people do not experience a rash and do not see the tick that bit them, which makes Lyme disease diagnosis easy to miss. What is more, the Lyme disease screening that is done at present does not have a high degree of accuracy and many patients receive a negative result. To increase the chance of an accurate diagnosis, patients are encouraged to take photos of their rashes as soon as they seem and go to a specialist for further investigation, even if the rash goes away. If the patient managed to remove the tick within the first 48 hours, the chances of infection are low, but a screening is still recommended.
Lyme disease treatment includes the use of antibiotics of antibiotics amoxicillin and tetracycline for a period between 10 and 21 days. Other antibiotics such as cefuroxime and doxycycline may also be recommended. When diagnosed in the early states, Lyme disease treatment is successful the patient makes a full recovery.
Specialists do not recommend antibiotic treatment for more than 21 days, unless the patient experiences join pain again. In general, success is estimated based on the absence of symptoms, as currently there isn’t a test to check whether there are remaining traces of bacteria in the blood.
A Lyme disease vaccine was launched on the market in 1998, but because of its cost and alleged side effects, it was withdrawn in 2002. Scientists are currently working on developing a new vaccine, but, until then, the population can only prevent Lyme disease by avoiding risk factors – namely, the tick bite:
The most notable Lyme disease risk factors are contact with ticks in their habitats or pets, which can become their hosts.
Lyme disease is a serious infectious disease that can cause additional health problems if left untreated. Some of the most common Lyme disease complications include: