Lyme disease occurs following a bite from an infected tick and can drastically affect people’s lifestyles and daily activities when left untreated.
Lyme disease can result in flu-like symptoms, fatigue, joint pain and cognitive impairment. It is typically easy to treat with a course of antibiotics if it is diagnosed early.
Not all ticks spread Lyme disease. However, you should be cautious when spending time in wooded or grassy areas.
Lyme disease is passed on to humans and animals from an infected tick. Lyme disease is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
The first sign of Lyme disease may be an oval expanding rash (erythema migrans) which is usually non-itchy. This rash will appear around the area where you have been bitten. You may also experience joint pain and stiffness. Your joints may be swollen and painful to touch.
Lyme disease is progressive and if left untreated, it can cause complications to the heart, brain and nervous system.
There are different stages of Lyme disease and a classic rash may not always be present. This chapter has some useful information to help you understand the symptoms of Lyme disease. We can help with:
Image source Hannah Garrison Bullseye Lyme Disease Rash CC BY-SA 2.5
Lyme disease or Lyme borreliosis is an infection caused by a group of spiral-shaped bacteria (spirochetes) which are transmitted to humans following a bite from an infected tick. Ticks are commonly found in grassy and wooded areas, including urban gardens and parks.
Tick activity increases in spring and peaks between April to June, reducing over the summer months. However, it can increase again in early autumn and continues at low levels throughout the winter.
The true incidence of Lyme disease is unknown. However, Public Health England estimates that there are 2,000-3,000 new confirmed cases of Lyme disease each year in England and Wales, although not all cases are confirmed by laboratory testing (PHE, 2018). About 15% of cases are acquired when people are abroad.
Infection occurs most frequently in the New Forest, Salisbury Plain, Surrey and West Sussex, Exmoor, the South Downs, parts of Wiltshire and Berkshire, the Lake District, the North York Moors, the Thetford Forest (Norfolk), and the Scottish Highlands, but any area harbouring Ixodes ticks may have the potential for Lyme borreliosis transmission.
Lyme disease may be more prevalent in central, eastern and northern Europe (including Scandinavia) and parts of Asia, the US and Canada.
Some symptoms of Lyme disease can include:
Lyme disease typically occurs in 3 stages.
This is the initial stage of Lyme disease and can occur within hours or weeks after a bite from an infected tick. Symptoms in this phase include an oval skin rash at the point of the bite, fever, fatigue, muscle and joint pains, flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes.
This stage may occur weeks or months after the tick bite and shows that the bacteria is starting to spread around the body. In addition to the symptoms in the first stage, you may also experience inflamed and painful joints, headache, neck stiffness, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, weakness or numbness in the arms and legs, vision changes, heart problems and facial paralysis.
This stage occurs when Lyme disease is left untreated. This can occur months or even years after the initial bite and can result in inflammatory migratory arthritis, severe headaches or migraines, severe fatigue, dizziness, irregular heart rhythm and worsening cognitive impairment.
Lyme disease is easiest to treat and cure in its early stage. Stages can sometimes overlap and not all patients may experience all three stages of Lyme disease.
In the initial stage of Lyme disease, a rash will appear around the bite of the tick. This rash usually doesn't itch but is a sign of the infection spreading through skin tissues. Up to a third of people with Lyme disease don’t have a rash.
The Lyme disease rash, known as erythema migrans that appears on infected individuals, has the following features:
To test for Lyme disease your doctor will first ask you about your medical history and if you have spent time outdoors recently. Your doctor will also perform a physical exam to check for the presence of a rash (erythema migrans). However, there is not always an obvious rash. Two types of blood tests can also be carried out to confirm the presence of Lyme disease but are not always accurate in the early stages of the disease. These include:
Lyme disease occurs when you are bitten by a tick carrying the Lyme bacteria. You may be at risk if you spend a lot of time in areas where ticks such as deer ticks are present.
This chapter has some useful information to help you understand the risk factors contributing to Lyme disease and how you can prevent coming into contact with ticks. We can help with:
Lyme disease is caused by an infected tick passing the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, to a human during its feeding cycle. The tick can become infected during its larval or nymph stage after it feeds on small animals like mice, squirrels and birds that carry the bacteria causing Lyme disease. When the infected tick gets onto you and bites, the bacteria can enter your skin and eventually make its way into your bloodstream.
Where you live can increase your risk of coming into contact with an infected tick. Some common risk factors of Lyme disease include:
Lyme disease is not passed on from person to person. It has not been shown that Lyme disease can be spread from person to person through blood transfusions, infected animals, kissing and is not sexually transmitted.
If you have had Lyme disease once and have been treated with antibiotics and recover, it is possible to get it again if you get bitten by an infected tick. You will have to see your doctor again to get diagnosed and prescribed appropriate treatment.
Lyme disease cannot be passed on genetically. Lyme disease is not inherited but if more than one member of a family contracts Lyme disease, this may be due to the environment they share.
You may get Lyme disease from a tick on a dog if the dog has picked up a tick that is carrying the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. This carrier tick can get onto your skin and bite and infect you with Lyme disease. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, however. The Lone star tick, American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick and brown dog tick do not carry Lyme disease bacteria and cannot transmit the disease.
NHS testing is available for Lyme disease through local service providers and the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL). To test for Lyme disease, a blood test will be carried out to detect antibodies produced to fight off the Lyme disease bacteria.
Lyme disease is typically treated with a course of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Your GP can diagnose you and carry out tests to determine if you have Lyme disease
This chapter has some helpful information on how Lyme disease is treated and prevented. We can help with:
Lyme disease can be easily treated and cured in its early stages with a prescription of antibiotics from your doctor. If Lyme disease is left untreated, it can cause serious complications to your heart, joints and nervous symptoms. However, Lyme disease can also be treated and cured in its later stages.
For people diagnosed with Lyme disease (or with a high suspicion of Lyme disease awaiting test results) a doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. Usually an antibiotic such as Doxycycline, Amoxicillin or Azithromycin would be prescribed for 2 to 4 weeks.
There are different approaches your doctor may take to help you manage your Lyme disease:
If you are in the early stages of Lyme disease, light and moderate exercise can be good for alleviating joint aches and pains. However, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, it is not recommended that you exercise.
To reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease you can:
Depending on the stage of infection, Lyme disease can seriously affect one’s memory, heart and joints. It’s important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment if you have noticed symptoms of Lyme disease.
This chapter will give you more information on the complications that could arise from untreated Lyme disease. We can help with:
If Lyme disease is not caught in its early stages and treated with antibiotics, it can cause serious complications. If left untreated, the infection can spread to your joints, heart and nervous system. This can cause an array of symptoms such as:
Lyme disease may cause weight gain, weight loss and skin disorders due to a buildup of toxins in the body.
Lyme carditis occurs with untreated Lyme disease or in situations where treatment has been unsuccessful. It is a progressive complication that affects the heart. Symptoms of Lyme carditis include chest pain, heart palpitations and ECG changes. All parts of the heart can be affected by Lyme bacteria.
Amongst other complications people may experience, it is possible that Lyme disease contributes to liver problems as it may cause inflammation of the liver (hepatitis).
If you think you have developed Lyme disease, your doctor can accurately diagnose you and give you more information on the disease.
This chapter has some more helpful answers to frequently asked questions about Lyme disease. We can help with:
Lyme disease may not go away on its own without antibiotic treatment. Initial symptoms of Lyme disease may go away on their own within a few weeks, however, additional symptoms may appear days to months later.
Lyme disease is not fatal and can be treated and cured with a course of antibiotics. However, untreated Lyme disease can lead to serious complications which can affect your brain, heart and joints.
Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. Only some species of ticks can carry the Lyme disease bacteria and pass it on to humans. The ticks that carry Lyme disease are referred to as Ixodes and include:
It is not possible to get Lyme disease from a dog bite. Lyme disease is only passed on to people through an infected tick bite. A dog may, however, have picked up a carrier tick and this tick could latch onto you.
Lyme disease can be treated and cured with a course of antibiotics within 2 to 4 weeks. However, it is possible for symptoms of Lyme disease to last for months or years after treatment. These symptoms include fatigue, joint or muscle pains, headaches, hearing loss, dizziness, mood changes, paresthesia, difficulty sleeping and difficulty thinking. They can disrupt a person’s normal daily activities, however, not all cases of Lyme disease will result in post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.
Mosquitoes can carry Lyme disease but there is no evidence that they spread the infection to humans.
If you have been bitten by a tick and it is still attached to the skin, remove it as soon as possible.
After removal, clean the skin with soap and water or skin disinfectant and wash your hands.
Seek immediate medical advice if you develop any signs or symptoms of Lyme disease.
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