What's in this article?
Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Deer ticks, which feed on the blood of animals and humans, can harbor the bacteria and spread it when feeding.
If you’re treated with appropriate antibiotics in the early stages of the disease, you’re likely to recover completely. In later stages, response to treatment may be slower, but the majority of people with Lyme disease recover completely with appropriate treatment.
How Is Lyme Disease Transmitted?
Lyme disease is transmitted through a bite from a specific type of tick. The animals that most often carry these insects are white-footed field mice, deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, weasels, foxes, shrews, moles, chipmunks, squirrels, and horses. The majority of these ticks have been found in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
What causes Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a bacterial illness caused by a bacterium called a “spirochete.” In the United States, the actual name of the bacterium is Borrelia burgdorferi. In Europe, the bacteria Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii also cause Lyme disease. Certain ticks frequently found on deer from various locations harbor the bacterium in their stomachs. Lyme disease is spread by these ticks when they bite the skin, which permits the bacterium to infect the body. So Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease. Lyme disease is not contagious from an affected person to someone else. Lyme disease can cause abnormalities in the skin, joints, heart, and nervous system.
Early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease
These signs and symptoms may occur within a month after you’ve been infected:
- Rash. A small, red bump may appear at the site of the tick bite. This small bump is normal after a tick bite and doesn’t indicate Lyme disease. However, over the next few days, the redness may expand forming a rash in a bull’s-eye pattern, with a red outer ring surrounding a clear area. The rash, called erythema migrans, is one of the hallmarks of Lyme disease. Some people develop this rash at more than one place on their bodies.
- Flu-like symptoms. Fever, chills, fatigue, body aches and a headache may accompany the rash.
What are risk factors for developing Lyme disease?
Lyme disease occurs most frequently in children 5-14 years of age and adults 40-50 years of age. The most substantial risk factor for Lyme disease is exposure to the ticks located in the high-risk areas of the country listed above, particularly in the New England states as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin. Additional risk factors include recreational and occupational exposure to ticks and outdoor activities, including gardening, in woods and fields in the high-risk areas. No transplacental transmission (congenital infection) of Lyme disease from the mother to the unborn child has ever been described. Again, Lyme disease is not contagious from one person to another.
What is the treatment for Lyme disease, and what is its prognosis?
Most cases of Lyme disease are curable with antibiotics. This is so true that some authors of Lyme disease research have stated that the most common cause of lack of response of Lyme disease to antibiotics is a lack of Lyme disease to begin with! The type of antibiotic depends on the stage of the disease (early or late) and what areas of the body are affected. Early illness is usually effectively treated with medicines taken by mouth, for example, doxycycline (Vibramycin), amoxicillin (Amoxil), or cefuroxime axetil (Ceftin). Of note, doxycycline should not be used in pregnancy or in children under 8 years of age.