One of the most common and most dangerous diseases that break out like an epidemic, especially in the months of spring, is the Lyme disease. This serious tick-borne illness is more dangerous than you think. It was in the year 1977, that the disease was first described and named by the doctors at New Haven's Yale Medical Centre, since the residents of Lyme, a town in Connecticut in the United States of America were found to have this unusual and ‘new’ disease.

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Lyme Disease in Humans: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis, Risk Factors, Prevention

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a serious tick-borne illness and bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium that is found in and spread by the bite of the blacklegged ticks or deer ticks.

This bacterium has a very complex life cycle that starts in the deer ticks or blacklegged ticks and then is completed in the mammals like deer and mice. Although the humans are not a part of their life cycle, they become infected with this bacterium if they come into contact with them, through the bite of these ticks.

Lyme Disease in Humans : Causes of Infection, Spreading and Risk Factors

Lyme disease in humans is caused by the bite of a certain type of ticks. As these ticks bite, they spread Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium. Usually the pets like dogs and cats are infected with Lyme disease, as these ticks can easily get into their fur and bite them. However, Lyme disease is not contagious and; hence, the pets cannot pass the disease to their owners or humans. But, if you stay in the woods for long, these ticks can bite you and cause Lyme disease in humans.

The various animals that usually carry these ticks are deer, squirrels, white-footed field mice, skunks, chipmunks, raccoons, moles, weasels, foxes, opossums, shrews and horses. Lyme disease in humans occurs mostly in the USA, as this insect or tick is largely found in areas such as Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Wisconsin. The risk factors associated with Lyme disease in humans are:

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  • Being engaged into outdoor activities such as hunting, gardening and hiking increases the risk of Lyme disease in humans.
  • Walking through the woods and grasses increases the risk of Lyme disease in humans.
  • Having a pet that carries a Lyme disease spreading blacklegged ticks or deer ticks increases the risk of Lyme disease in humans.
  • People living in the areas, where there is an abundance of these ticks are at increased risk for Lyme disease.

However, there are many cases, where the person, despite being bitten by these ticks, did not acquire Lyme disease. The tick must be stuck on to the clothes and body for 24 to 36 hours to bite you and spread the bacteria to the blood. Usually these Lyme disease ticks are so small that you will hardly be able to see them on clothes or body.

Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Humans

Depending on the stage of Lyme disease in humans, untreated Lyme disease produces a wide range of symptoms in people and these can be divided into two major groups:

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Early Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Humans (3 to 30 days after blacklegged tick bite)

Bull’s-eye rash or Erythema migrans. This occurs in almost 70 to 80% of all people, bitten by the blacklegged ticks. This target-shaped rash in Lyme disease in humans is reddish and slightly raised. It feels warm to touch it and it spreads up to 12 inches.

Headache, muscle aches, fever and fatigue are some other symptoms of Lyme disease in humans.

Later Signs & Symptoms of Lyme Disease in Humans (months after tick bite)

How to Tell If a Person Has Lyme's Disease?

Lyme disease in humans has signs and symptoms that are extremely common and are identical with common flu. Since, most people, who get the symptoms after around a month, usually do not remember the bite of the ticks; and it is even harder to identify these signs and symptoms in people with that of Lyme disease. The ticks are so small that it is quite difficult to notice the presence of the ticks on the body or their attachment on the clothes. If the tick bite takes place in your knowledge, it is very important to see if there are any flu-like signs and symptoms. If a rash occurs on a human body, mark it with a magic marker to check if it is growing or not. If it does, see the doctor immediately.

As the nymphals or immature ticks usually pass the Lyme disease more effectively in humans, it is even harder to identify them. This is because they have a size like that of a poppy seed. What makes it easy to recognise the signs and symptoms to be associated with Lyme disease in humans is the Bull’s-eye rash or Erythema migrans. However, about 20 to 30% people bitten with these ticks may not have this characteristic sign of Lyme disease in humans. Gradually, the signs and symptoms of Lyme disease in humans will worsen leading to severe pain in joints and muscles and arthritis as well as facial paralysis.

Prognosis and Epidemiology of Lyme Disease in Humans

Lyme disease is a very common disease that occurs in people all across the globe, except for Antarctica. However, Lyme disease in humans is more common in USA, especially along the west, mid-west and east coast. More than 300,000 people are annually reported to have Lyme disease alone in the United States of America, according to the reports of The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. This number is 6 times higher than the number of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and 1.5 times higher than the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer every year in USA. About 70% of all patients are seen to suffer from severe to very severe symptoms that can affect any part of the body and the bodily systems.

With early diagnosis and treatment, Lyme disease in humans can be cured well. With delay, the condition may worsen. However, none of these signs and symptoms of Lyme disease in humans is life threatening.

Diagnosis of Lyme Disease in Humans

The doctors usually consider the clinical test or physical diagnosis of the signs and symptoms of the Lyme disease in humans to come to a conclusion. Bull’s eye rash, facial paralysis and joint pains are obvious signs of Lyme disease in humans. If the patient has been to areas where the ticks carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium are in abundance, then it becomes even more obvious.

An antibody test called the ELISA assay can tell if the human body has developed the antibodies to prevent or fight this bacterium. However, there can be false positive results of this test as this antibody can remain in the body years after the Lyme disease in humans has resolved. The Western Blot assay is a more trustworthy test for detecting this antibody.

Treatment for Lyme Disease in Humans

Depending upon the stage of the Lyme disease in humans, the treatment procedure is determined. Treatment should be started as fast as possible for better results and rapid recovery. If the treatment for Lyme disease in humans is started early, it can be treated completely. However, with delay, the risk of developing long lasting and severe symptoms is a possibility. Different types of antibiotics are given for different stages of Lyme disease in humans. The antibiotics which are generally used for treating Lyme disease in humans are:

Oral Antibiotics. This includes doxycycline or amoxicillin course for two to four weeks. These antibiotics speed up the healing of rash and prevent symptoms like arthritis or neurological problems. Amoxicillin or penicillin is given to children who are under the age of 9 and also to pregnant women, as doxycycline can harm permanent teeth of young children or unborn babies. If patients are allergic to penicillin, then they are treated with erythromycin or related antibiotics.

Intravenous (IV) Antibiotics. This can be used for those patients, who are in more serious stage of the Lyme disease, where the nervous system gets affected. The doctor might recommend intravenous antibiotics for 14 to 28 days to treat Lyme disease in humans. It can cause many side effects such as reduction in white blood cells as well as diarrhea, but many patients experience full recovery from Lyme disease.

Prevention for Lyme Disease in Humans

Preventing Lyme disease in humans is always easier than treating it. The factor that has to be kept in mind is that the blacklegged ticks, which cause Lyme disease, are prevented. These ticks can stick on you and if it does, you need to get rid of them instantly. The most useful ways of preventing yourself from Lyme disease are:

  • Wear full sleeved shirts with full pants and tuck pants in socks.
  • Wear light coloured clothes so that you can spot ticks as they will be more visible.
  • Carefully handle your pets because ticks can stick on animals and come into your home.
  • Spray Permethrin on clothes and exposed skin to kill ticks if they stick on your clothes.
  • Check your hair and that of your children, along with the scalp to make sure that the ticks do not stick to the scalp.
  • If the blacklegged ticks stick on clothes, remove it by gripping to its head or mouth with a tweezers. Do not hold ticks with naked finger.
  • As soon as possible, clean the area with soap and water.

Conclusion

Lyme disease in humans can occur if you are travelling through woods and fields of those regions, where these ticks carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium are found. Maintaining the precautions and keeping yourself safe is the best way to prevent Lyme disease in humans. However, if any symptoms appear, diagnosing the condition soon and treating it well is a must.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: January 19, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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