Lyme disease is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi or Borrelia
Mayonii. The bacteria are transmitted to humans from an infected deer tick that has has been
attached to the skin for at least 36 hours. Unfortunately, many people with Lyme disease have
no memory of a tick bite, thus many experts believe there may be another source or vector,
though that has never been proven. Lyme disease was first recognized in 1975 and is the most
common tick-borne illness in Europe and the United States. People who live or spend time in
wooded areas or have pets that visit them are more likely to Lyme disease.
The symptoms can vary in severity, and are commonly divided into three stages: early localized,
early disseminated, and late disseminated, though symptoms can overlap.
Symptoms of stage one, early localized Lyme, usually start 1 to 2 weeks after the tick bite. One
of the earliest signs of Lyme disease is the “bullseye rash”. Only half of the people get this rash,
that starts at the tick bite and slowly spreads outward and clears behind the spreading outer
ring, so combined with the red small area at the tick bite makes it look like a bullseye. Along with
the rash, people may experience chills, fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and headaches that may
last for 2 weeks or more as the rash spreads and eventually fades away.
Stage 2, early disseminated Lyme, generally occurs several weeks to months after stage 1.
People will appear to recover from stage 1 symptoms and then begin feeling unwell again, and
a circular purple rash may appear in areas other than the tick bite, sometimes many of them.
Stage 2 is primarily characterized by evidence of systemic infection, which means the infection
has spread throughout the body, including to other organs, and may appear as disturbances
in heart rhythm, neurologic conditions like tingling or facial nerve palsies, and meningitis.
Stage 3, late disseminated Lyme, occurs when the infection hasn’t been treated in stages 1 and
2. Stage 3 can occur months or years after the tick bite and is characterized by arthritis in one or
more large joints, neurologic changes like numbness in the arms, legs, hands, or feet. And
brain encephalopathy, which can cause short-term memory loss, difficulty concentration, foggy
mind, and sleep disturbance.
Diagnosing Lyme disease during stage one is based on the history of a bite by a deer tick, a
physical exam, and the relative presence of Lyme in your area. It isn't until about three weeks
after the initial bite that bloodwork can detect the presence of Lyme antibodies. And in stage two
and three, a spinal tap or draining fluid from an inflamed joint may be necessary.
Lyme disease is best treated in the early stages before it has a chance to spread to other areas
of the body. If you live in a high-risk area and have a deer tick attached for 36 hours, then a
single dose of antibiotics may be all you need. Treatment for early localized disease (stage 1) is
a simple 14-day course of oral antibiotics. In stage 2 and 3 oral and/ or intravenous antibiotics
for up to a month may be necessary.
In all cases, it is important tp ensure good nutrition, regular exercise, adequate hydration, a low
inflammatory diet, anti-oxidants and supplements, and stress reduction to help your body heal.
If you're treated for Lyme disease with antibiotics but continue to experience symptoms, it is
referred to as post Lyme disease syndrome or chronic Lyme disease syndrome. Some studies
indicate that up to 20 percent of people with Lyme disease experience this syndrome, the cause
of which is unknown but theorized to be an auto-immune reaction that can cause fatigue,
difficulty sleeping, aching joints or muscles, difficulty concentrating and short-term memory
Current evidence suggests there may be another unknown vector for Lyme that is as of yet
unknown, given the number of people diagnosed with Lyme who have no risk of deer tick
exposure. Lyme is not believed to be spread from human contact, sexually transmitted, or
passed to the infant during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
The best way to prevent Lyme is to decrease your risk of experiencing a tick bite. Wear long
pants and long-sleeve shirts when in the woods, use insect repellent, oil and eucalyptus blends
can give the same protection as DEET when used in similar concentrations. Be vigilant. Check
your children, pets, and yourself for ticks. Remove ticks with tweezers. Apply the tweezers near
the head or the mouth of the tick and pull gently. Check to be certain that all tick parts have
been removed, and contact your healthcare provider if and whenever a tick bites you or your
~Lawrence Hutchison, MD