Everything You Need to Know About Lyme Disease
When global popstar Avril Lavinge announced to the world that she had been battling Lyme disease, it shone a much-needed spotlight on the potentially life-threatening disease.
She’s not alone. There are some 300,000 cases reported each year, and worryingly, it’s on the rise. It’s predicted to increase by 20 per cent by the mid-century according to studies by Carneige Mellon University. This in part, may be due to climate change affecting the weather pattern.
So, what is this disease and how can we prevent it?
What is Lyme Disease?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted to animals and humans, through an infected bite of a tick.
The bacteria that cause Lyme disease are mostly found in deer ticks. These ticks are brown in color, and they are about the size of a pin’s head. As they suck on the blood of human beings or animals, they will increase in size by several times. The animals that are usually targeted by deer ticks are small birds, mice, and deer, but dogs, cats, horses, and human beings can attract such ticks too. Deer ticks are usually found in wooded areas, where they live in tall grasses and bushes. When warm-blooded animals pass by, they will cling on to them and feed on their blood. It’s during summer that deer ticks are most active.
The bacterium that causes this disease is known as borrelia burgdorferi, which can be found in certain ticks. Lyme disease is transmitted when these ticks bite the skin of a person or an animal.
Symptoms can occur between 3 and 30 days from infection and may include; fever, headache and fatigue, often with a distinctive skin rash known as ‘erythema migrans’ which affects 70-80% of victims. A small reddish bump will appear several days or weeks after a person or animal has been bitten by an infected tick. After it appears for a few days, the rash will expand in size. In extreme cases, it may cover an area that measures 12 inches across.
If untreated, symptoms may develop into severe headaches, neck stiffness, muscle and tendon pain, heart palpitations and a number of other related symptoms.
It is often diagnosed in relation to these symptoms, namely the rash, along with those who believe they have been exposed to ticks.
Along with the rash, the infected person or animal may also get flu-like symptoms, such as fever, body aches, weakness, and headache. If the infection is left untreated, severe pain and swelling of the joints may occur. The pain usually occurs around the knees, but it will spread to other joints in the body as well. There have been cases where infected people suffered nervous system disease and neurological problems, such as inflammation of the brain’s membranes, Bell’s palsy, impairment of muscle movement, memory loss, and loss of concentration. These symptoms usually occur if the infection is not treated for months or years.
Where do ticks live?
These ticks can often be found in woods, brushy areas, often in a similar habitat to white-footed mice, deer and other mammals. They are especially known to be in low-lying vegetation, which is why it’s especially important to cover up in potentially rife environments.
National Parks and wildlife areas tend to have signs up to warn visitors that these may be a high-risk area.
Dogs and Lyme Disease
Dogs are very much prone to Lyme disease, since they are closer to the ground and known to roam off in large parks and woody areas.
By regularly mowing your lawn, using a veterinarian-recommended tick preventative device and checking your animals for ticks daily, you are reducing their risk of infection, or increasing your chances of finding it early.
In some circumstances, dogs may not require treatment since only a small amount develop a clinical illness from the infection. But there are treatments available in the form of Doxycycline and Amoxicillin for dogs.
It’s important to note that Lyme disease cannot be transmitted from dog to human. However, it’s possible that an infected tick could crawl off a dog and bite you, which could result in infection.
If you notice that a rash has appeared on your body after you have been to a region where Lyme disease is common, you should go to a doctor right away to get a diagnosis. The doctor will check your medical history and examine your body to determine whether the symptoms that you are suffering from are caused by Lyme disease or other illnesses. Presently, the most accurate diagnosis method that is available for Lyme disease is the Western Blot antibody test.
In humans, if found early enough, Lyme Disease can be treated successfully. In most cases, Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics. Different types of antibiotics are used for different stages of the disease. For the earlier stages, oral medications, such as doxycycline, cefuroxime axetil, and amoxicillin, can be taken. Antibiotics will resolve the Lyme disease rash in about one or two weeks’ time. If an infected person is suffering from nervous system diseases, he or she will need intravenous drugs such as ceftriaxone and penicillin G.
However, prevention is always better than cure and there are a few steps one can take to keep this at bay, as mentioned below.
Using insect repellent is a good way to keep bugs at bay, this may be particularly important in certain climates and regions, where the incidence is higher.
You can also wear treated clothing and shower after being outside. If you own a pet that is prone to ticks, be sure to take appropriate action for them too.
Best of all, try and avoid areas known for Lyme disease.
What if I find a tick?
In any incidence of finding a tick, these should be removed immediately, The Lyme Disease Action association advise on the correct way of removing a tick bite, and even recommend specialist equipment for a successful excision. You may want to save the tick in a jar, so it can be checked for traces of disease.
NOTE: If you feel that you are suffering from any of these symptoms, or may have been exposed to Lyme Disease, please visit a professional care provider. Information in this article is intended as a guide and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.