Lyme disease

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What is it

Lyme disease is a tick-borne infection that can cause flulike symptoms and joint inflammation. First identified as a form of arthritis in 1 975 in the woodlands around Lyme, Connecticut (hence its name), cases are known to have occurred in most states, predominantly in the Northeast and upper Midwest, and on the Pacific coast. The ticks tend to thrive in those areas where suburban lawns meet woodlands. Deer, whose population has grown in the East in recent years, help spread infected ticks to new areas. Migratory birds have brought Lyme dis- ease to the South. Even city dwellers may develop Lyme disease. All it takes is a weekend excursion to the countryside for you or your dog to meet up with an infected tick.

Although this disease has received the most publicity in the United States, it has existed in Europe at least since the beginning of the century (though its assorted symptoms were often not attributed to a single disorder). Lyme dis- ease is found today on all continents except Antarctica. While the peak periods may vary from region to region, this is primarily a summer dis- ease. You’re most likely to be bitten by a deer tick between May and September, when immature ticks, or nymphs, are active. That’s also when people are outdoors the most. The risk of being bitten is lower in April, October, and November, and lowest from December through March.

Even if you’re certain you’ve been bitten by a deer tick and that the tick was infected, it’s unlikely that you’ll develop Lyme disease. The chance of infection is very low (less than 1 percent), even in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent. A tick has to feed on a human for 24 to 48 hours before the disease can be transmitted.


Lyme disease is hard to diagnose because its symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. Early symptoms are usually mild and often overlooked. No single symptom appears in all cases, and there’s no predictable time frame or sequence of symptoms.

  • Red raised bull’s-eye rash at the site of the tick bite that expands over several days and can last for weeks (80 percent of cases).
  • Flulike symptoms, including chills, fever, headache, lethargy, and muscle pain.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Inflammation in large joints, especially the knees, if the disease is untreated and allowed to progress over months.

What causes it

Lyme disease, caused by a corkscrew-shaped bacterium known as a spirochete (Borrelia burgdorferi), is transmitted primarily via certain species of deer ticks. These are smaller than the common dog tick, though it is often difficult to tell the two types of tick apart. A deer tick, before it becomes engorged with blood, looks like a mole or a blood blister. While, the flat, eight legged grownups are less than one-tenth of an inch long, the nymphs are around the size of a pinhead, and the larvae are almost undetectable. The male is black and the female is dark red and black. When filled with blood, the tick becomes gray and increases in size three-to fivefold.

Although deer can become infected, in the eastern United States white-footed field mice serve as the main host for both the bacteria and i the young ticks. The adult ticks usually feed and mate on deer, then drop off to lay eggs. These in turn hatch into minuscule larvae, which become infected by feeding on white-footed mice. The larvae molt and become infected nymphs. (In the West, the culprit is the closely related blacklegged tick, also carried by wood rats.)

Both nymphs and adult ticks feed on a variety of animals. The nymphs are the chief threat to humans about 70 to 90 percent of all cases are caused by nymph bites. Adult ticks are generally less of a threat to humans because they’re large enough to be seen and removed before they transfer the bacteria.

The nymphs and adults wait on low vegetation in wooded areas and adjacent grasslands and transfer themselves to whatever brushes by; they don’t fly or jump. Dogs and cats can carry the ticks to your home and property. (Horses and household pets can get Lyme disease but cannot transmit it to humans; rather, they bring ticks close to humans.)

Ticks prefer dark, moist areas on people, typically the back of the knees, the groin area, and under the Arms.

What if you do nothing

Without treatment, Lyme disease runs its course in a few weeks or months. However, ignoring or delaying treatment can lead to chronic arthritis or heart problems, as well as skin and nervous system abnormalities that may be difficult to treat successfully. It’s obviously better to properly diagnose and attend to the ailment as early as possible.

Home remedies

There are no home remedies for Lyme disease. You should see a physician for diagnosis and treatment. A vaccine for Lyme disease is under trial, but until it becomes available, prevention is the best way to remain healthy.


To lessen the risks of contracting Lyme disease and to free yourself from worry in the fields or woods (or in your yard), take these precautions.

Wear long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt with buttoned cuffs

Tuck the shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks or boots. Wear hard-finished, light-colored fabrics. It’s easier to spot ticks on white or tan trousers than on black ones.

Apply insect repellent to your pants, socks, and shoes

Repellents containing the substance called DEET are approved for warding off ticks. Be careful if you put any on your skin, since DEET can be hazardous if too much of it is absorbed through skin, which can happen if you apply high concentrations.

Most states permit the sale of permethrin, which is an excellent tick repellent. Permethrin should be applied only to clothing.

Avoid tick habitats

Try to stay near the center of trails in overgrown country.

Check occasionally for ticks when you’re in underbrush or wooded areas

Later do a thorough check of your entire body. Have someone look at your back and head if possible. Remove ticks properly and properly. The sooner you remove a tick, the better your chance of avoiding infection. If an infected tick is on you for less than 24 hours, you probably won’t develop the disease. When pets come inside, check them for ticks.

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