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Lyme Disease Frequently Asked Questions

What is Lyme disease? 
Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease caused by the bites of infected ticks. The bacterium Borrelia burgorferi in the United States and Borrelia afzelii in Europe. In the United States, deer ticks (Ixodes scapularis) and western blacklegged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) spread the disease. Lyme disease has a variety of symptoms, including a red rash, fatigue, chills, headachesarthritic pains in joints, and swollen lymph nodes.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
Lyme disease has an array of symptoms and is often hard to diagnose. Here are some of the more common symptoms of Lyme:

Bull’s Eye Rash: A telling symptom of Lyme disease is a “bull’s eye” rash that gradually grows larger over a period of several days. This rash is known as Erythema migrans (EM). This rash occurs in the vast majority of persons infected with Lyme disease, around 70% of patients. Although the average time it takes for this rash to show is around seven days, it can take as few as three or as many as twenty days to develop. The rash typically feels warm to the touch but not itchy or painful.

Arthritic Pain: Lyme disease often causes patients pain and/or stiffness (arthritis) in their larger joints like knees, elbows, ankles, and wrists. Arthritis occurs in about 31% of patients according to the CDC.

Facial (Bell’s) Palsy: Sometimes patients exhibit a loss of muscle tone on one or both sides of the face. Bell’s palsy occurs in approximately 9% of patients.

Heart Problems: In some rare cases, Lyme bacterium can travel to the heart and cause Lyme carditis. This affects the way that the electrical signals travel between the upper and lower chambers—a process that may interfere with a patient’s heart beat and thus lead to something called “heart block.”

Cognitive Defects: Many Lyme patients complain about a loss of mental function or capacity.

Meningitis: Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges (or membranes) that surround your brain and spinal cord. Meningitis or encephalitis occurs in approximately 1-2% of patients.

Fatigue: Many Lyme patients experience extreme fatigue or a loss in usual energy.

Is Lyme disease contagious?
Children and adults who spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly in or near wooded areas in the northeast part of the country, are more likely to contract Lyme. There is concern that Lyme disease may be passed to the fetus by infected mothers. Pets can become infected with the disease as well and may carry infected ticks into areas where humans live. There are tick control products and other protective measures that can be used with pets although these may involve products containing harmful chemicals.

Where is Lyme disease most common?
In 2013, 95% of confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported from these states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

I’ve heard that once you have Lyme disease, you always have it. Is this true?
No. Many patients who caught the infection in the early stages and completed their antibiotics recover quickly. Some patients that are treated in later stages may have some long-term effects including fatigue, arthritis, and difficulty thinking even after completing their antibiotic treatment. These symptoms generally improve on their own over time.

How many people get Lyme disease per year?
According to sources, anywhere from 30,000 to 300,000 people in the United States are infected with Lyme disease every year. Estimates vary greatly because many times the symptoms of Lyme disease align with other ailments (like arthritis or meningitis) and the Lyme goes undiagnosed. "Officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that about 300,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year—about 10 times as many as are officially reported."

How can I prevent tick bites?
There are a variety of ways to prevent tick bites. The following tips are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control: 

  • Ticks are most active in the warmer months (from April through September) so be extra vigilant during this time. 
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas as these are prime tick locations. Ticks love to hide in high grass and leaf litter.
  • The CDC recommends using insect repellents that contain 20-30% DEET on exposed skin. Be sure that parents help their children apply this correctly.

Once you are home from your outdoor adventure, be sure to double-check your body, children, gear, and pets for any remaining ticks. Bathe or shower within two hours of coming back indoors. Lastly, put any clothes or washable gear in the dyer on high heat to kill any remaining ticks. Check out our informational pin to see the best ways to protect yourself and your family from tick bites.  

What about Babesiosis?
Babesiosis is caused by parasites that infect the red blood cells and is spread by certain ticks. Babesia is a malaria-like parasite, also called a piroplasm that infects red blood cells in mammals. The disease is sometimes confused with Lyme disease because of its similar symptoms. Conventional blood tests can reveal if someone has Babesiosis. The disease is treatable but often has lasting negative health effects because of its immunosuppressant qualities.

For more information visit FAQ at the Center for Disease Control.

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