Lyme disease is an infection with a corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdoferi. It is passed to humans through tick bites.
What is going on in the body?
After an infected tick bites an individual, the organism can cause early local Lyme disease. This resembles a mild flu-like illness and there may be a rash at the site of the bite.
If the organism spreads through the body by the bloodstream, it can affect many body systems. This widespread infection is known as disseminated Lyme disease.
What are the causes and risks of the infection?
Lyme disease is carried by certain species of ticks, including the following:
- deer ticks in the northeastern and north-central parts of the United States
- sheep ticks in Europe
- Taiga tick in Asia
- western black-legged ticks in other parts of the U.S.
A person in these areas increases his or her risk of acquiring Lyme disease from a tick bite with the following activities:
- clearing brush
- living in a wooded or overgrown environment
- parks management
Lyme disease can also be passed to an unborn child if the baby's mother has the disease during
pregnancy, but this can be treated effectively for both the mother and the child she is carrying.
What can be done to prevent the infection?
People can prevent Lyme disease by avoiding tick bites. Here are several tips to help avoid tick bites.
- Check daily for ticks on the body.
- Use tick repellants (insect repellants).
- Wear protective clothing such as long pants (tucked into socks) and long-sleeved shirts in wooded areas.
At present, there is no vaccine to help prevent Lyme disease in humans. One 2001 study showed that a single dose of the antibiotic doxycycline, taken right after a bite from a deer tick, may be effective in preventing Lyme disease. Researchers recommend limiting this antibiotic prevention to people in high-risk areas who have had a tick attached to their skin for a day or two. It should not be given to pregnant women or children under the age of 8 years.
How is the infection diagnosed?
Early Lyme disease is usually diagnosed by the presence of the bull's-eye rash. An
antibody titer blood test is often done to confirm the diagnosis. The spirochetes that cause Lyme disease can also be cultured from blood or a biopsy of the rash. However, the culture is difficult and often takes months to complete.
Long Term Effects
What are the long-term effects of the infection?
Untreated Lyme disease may cause permanent disabilities from
arthritis, critical nervous system and nerve damage, and occasionally cardiac arrest.
What are the risks to others?
Lyme disease is not directly contagious from person to person. However, people with untreated Lyme disease can pass it on by donating blood. A
pregnant woman with Lyme disease can pass the infection to her unborn child.
What are the treatments for the infection?
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics, including the following:
Other medications may be used to treat symptoms of Lyme disease. For example,
seizures may be treated with anticonvulsant medications. Ibuprofen may be given for fever or joint pain.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Antibiotics and other medications used to treat Lyme disease may cause stomach upset or
allergic reactions . Some of the antibiotics may cause sensitivity to sunlight.
What happens after treatment for the infection?
With effective treatment, individuals usually recover from Lyme disease without further problems. In some individuals, the disease lasts a long time or the symptoms come back. These people may need repeated treatment. There is currently controversy about the effectiveness of long-term antibiotics for chronic Lyme disease. Research continues in this area.
How is the infection monitored?
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.