What Is The Most Accurate Test for Lyme Disease?


Lyme disease is more common than many people think. Figures from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggest that roughly 300,000 Lyme disease cases occur every year in the US. 

The numbers are alarming, but it gets worse as finding accurate diagnostic tests can be challenging. Although the disease is treatable, it is nearly impossible to tackle it effectively if it is not diagnosed accurately and early enough.

Late detection can lead to severe health problems such as arthritis, heart blockage, and inability to concentrate, among other problems. 

Given the prevalence and seeming elusiveness of the disease, some of the logical questions concerned persons would ask are: what is the most accurate test for Lyme disease? And when should I get checked for Lyme disease? This article will proffer answers to these and many other related questions. But first, a little background would be in order.

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. It is spread to humans through the bite of a carrier black-legged tick or deer tick. The disease causes flu-like symptoms and rashes. 

While most people with Lyme disease can recover completely, provided they get early diagnosis and treatment, the symptoms can reoccur in some people later in the future. For this reason, it is important to test for Lyme disease years later, especially if you have developed syndromes after the disease was treated.

When Should I Get Checked for Lyme Disease?

Generally, it is best to get tested for Lyme disease if you live where ticks are common or have recently visited such areas. Most certainly, you should get tested if you suspect that a tick has bitten you. It is important to talk to your doctor if you think you have any of the following early Lyme disease symptoms:

  • A rash resembling a bull’s eye on the spot where you’ve been bitten
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle ache
  • Headaches
  • Fever

Other symptoms don’t show up immediately. Sometimes, it takes up to a few weeks or months after the tick bite to notice the following:

  • Swelling on the joints or severe joint pain
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Loss of muscle tone or drooping in the face (facial palsy)
  • Heart palpitation or racing heart 
  • Nerve pain
  • Tingling in the feet and hands
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

While it is okay get checked early, Lyme disease test results numbers are more authentic a few weeks after you’ve been bitten by a carrier-tick. Your body would have developed antibodies within that period, and that can make it easier to detect the disease.

What is the Most Accurate Test for Lyme Disease?

Although there are quite a handful of Lyme disease tests, it can be tricky to diagnose the disease accurately. The disease presents signs and symptoms that are similar to many other health issues, meaning you could be told that you have Lyme disease when you actually don’t. And the fact that many of the tests for it are not particularly exact doesn’t help matters.

However, the CDC recommends serological tests (also known as blood tests) as the best test for Lyme disease. But what makes a blood test the most accurate for Lyme disease? A serological or blood test is an indirect test. Instead of detecting the antigens or the Lyme-causing bacteria, the test focuses on sniffing out the antibodies produced in response to the antigens in the body of an infected person. Your body won’t be producing antibodies to fight off the disease if it is not present. 

How Do They Test for Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is best tested using two different blood testing methods. These are:

  • The Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test: In a nutshell, this test will look for signs that your body is trying to fight off Lyme disease by producing antibodies. However, the ELISA test may come back negative even when a person is infected by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. False-negatives can occur during the early stages of the disease, where the infected person’s body has not produced enough antibodies to fight off the B. burgdorferi bacteria. For this reason, reliable diagnosis is not usually based only on the ELISA test results. 
  • Western Blot test: Here’s a simple way to explain the western blot test without getting into all the nitty-gritty details of what it does and how it does it. Put simply, it separates the blood proteins and detects antibodies to the bacteria causing the Lyme disease. Usually, when an ELISA test comes back positive, a western blot test is performed to confirm the diagnosis. 

Ideally, the CDC recommends standard two-tier testing to confirm the veracity of the Lyme disease test accuracy. Together, the ELISA and western blot tests are 99.9% accurate.

Can Lyme Disease be Detected By a Blood Test?

In a word: yes!

A blood test does not only detect Lyme disease; it is the most accurate and preferred test for diagnosing the disease. If a patient with Lyme disease shows signs that the central nervous system has been affected by the disease, western blot testing on the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) can be performed. If ordering from Walk-In Lab, a doctor’s note is not needed. Just pick your Lyme disease test and place your order online.  

Lyme Disease Treatment

Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. If you suspect that you have Lyme disease symptoms, it is best to get tested and diagnose early enough. This will hasten recovery time since treatment can be administered sooner. 

Typically, antibiotics treatment for Lyme disease can be administered either orally or intravenously, depending on the stage of the disease.

In early stages, Lyme disease treatment involves administering oral antibiotics for a period ranging from 10 to 21 days at different doses, depending on whether the patient is a young child, an adult, a breast-feeding mother, or a pregnant woman.

In severe cases or if the central nervous system has been affected, treatment might involve administering intravenous antibiotics for about two to four weeks. The Lyme disease symptoms might not clear up immediately, but intravenous treatment is highly effective for eradicating the infection. 

How Much Does A Lyme Disease Test Cost?

The cost of a Lyme disease test depends on what type of test is performed – an ELISA test or a combination of ELISA and western blot tests. 

Averagely, the cost for an ELISA test for Lyme disease is in the vicinity of $120 or more. If you include a confirmation western blot test, it can attract an additional $130 or more. More details on pricing can be referenced on our website.  

Although an ELISA test might come back negative, it is best to combine it with a western blot test because not everyone shows the rash or bull’s eye symptoms of Lyme disease. 

After a successful diagnosis and treatment, it is equally important to do a follow-up test for Lyme disease years later to be sure that any similar flu-like symptoms are something else and not the same disease reoccurring. 

Is There a Lyme Disease Test Kit?

Blood collection kits are available for at-home Lyme disease testing. Lyme disease test kits can cost as less as $20 and as much as $100 or more. Using a Lyme disease test kit is as simple as pricking your finger and smearing or collecting the blood onto the kit for testing.

However, testing for Lyme disease in a more controlled environment such as a lab or clinic is preferable as qualified healthcare professionals are likely to perform a more reliable test.  

Sources 

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Data and surveillance. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/datasurveillance/index.html
  2. Eugene D. S. (2014). Lyme disease. N Engl J Med 2014; 370:1724-1731. Retrieved from https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMcp1314325?fromsource=nelm&page=-3&sort=oldest
  3. Zeller J. L. (2007). Lyme disease. JAMA. 2007;297(23):2664. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/207551#related-articles-tab
  4. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Diagnosis and testing. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/diagnosistesting/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Flyme%2Fdiagnosistesting%2Flabtest%2Ftwostep%2Findex.html

Waddell L. A., et al. (2016). The accuracy of diagnostic tests for Lyme disease in humans, a systematic review and meta-analysis of North American research. PLoS One. 2016; 11(12): e0168613. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5176185/

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