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Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection. Specific types of ticks carry the borrelia burgdorferi bacterium that causes Lyme disease.  The bacterium is passed to humans through the bite of an infected tick.  Animals that carry these ticks include deer, horses, chipmunks, squirrels, mice weasels, moles, and foxes, as well as some other animals that are often found in wooded areas.  Ticks found on a dog are usually not infected with borrelia burgdorferi.  Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated can result in long-term damage to the heart, joints, and nervous system.  Lyme disease can present with symptoms similar to other conditions, such as the flu.  A blood test for Lyme disease can be used to determine whether or not an individual has Lyme disease.

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of Lyme disease change as the infection progresses.  The most distinctive symptom of Lyme disease is a rash that forms around the site of the tick bite.  The rash can occur between three days to several weeks after the bite.  The rash can be either round, oval, or triangular in shape.  The outline of the rash is red, while the skin directly surrounding the site of the bite is clear.  This rash is present is approximately 70 percent to 80 percent of cases.  If an individual has been bitten by a tick and forms this type of rash, he or she should consider getting a Lyme disease blood test as soon as possible.  Other early symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headaches, joint pain, stiff neck, and nausea.  As the disease progresses symptoms can include arthritis, temporary paralysis of muscles in the face, and irregular heartbeat.

Prevention

A vaccination for Lyme disease was available to the public from 1998 to 2002, but manufacturing of the vaccination was cut because very few people were buying the vaccination.  However, even without a vaccination one can take preventative measures to reduce the risk of getting Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is transmitted to humans by ticks.  The main focus of prevention, therefore, is to not get bitten by ticks.  When going into a wooded area, covering one’s skin with a long sleeved shirt and pants is important.  Also, staying on dirt trails rather than steeping off the trail into woods or grasses can help one avoid being bitten.

Blood Tests

A blood test for Lyme disease measures the level of antibodies in the blood.  These antibodies are produced by the immune system in response to the bacterial infection.  However, these antibodies may not show up in the blood for five or more weeks.  Even with a negative blood test for Lyme disease, treatment with antibiotics is often prescribed if there is reason to believe Lyme disease is present.  In these situations another test in normally performed a week or two after the first test to see if the antibodies have developed.  Small amounts of these antibodies will continue to be present in the blood for many years after the infection is gone. 

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