Lyme Disease is on the Rise in the U.S.
From Ravi Ramaswami, M.D., Family Medicine Physician at Lee Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are more than 300,000 cases of Lyme infection in the U.S. each year. Over the last five to ten years, doctors have seen an increase in the disease and other tickborne illnesses.
Lyme disease is an infection that is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected nymph tick. Patients may start to experience symptoms within three to 30 days after being bitten. In the classical case, seventy to eighty percent of infected people get a skin rash at the site of the bite which expands gradually over several days.
Although, traditionally more prevalent in the Northeast, cases of Lyme disease have now been found in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Experts say the tick has been expanding its range into the southern and western U.S. and Canada.
The chances of developing Lyme disease from a nymph tick bite depend on the kind of tick, where you were when the bite occurred and how long the tick was attached to you. The black-legged tick, commonly known as the deer tick, must be attached for 36-48 hours to transmit the disease. Nymph ticks are about the size of a pinhead and, therefore, can be difficult to spot on the skin.
Symptoms of Lyme disease present in the form of a fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain. In the absence of a rash, swollen lymph nodes may occur. Because Lyme disease can mimic other illnesses, it can be difficult to diagnose. While lab tests to identify antibodies to the bacteria can help confirm or rule out the diagnosis, these tests are most reliable a few weeks after an infection, after your body has had time to develop antibodies.
If doctors suspect a patient is at risk for the disease, antibiotics can be used to treat the symptoms. If treated in the early stages, people usually recover quickly and completely. If left untreated, spirochetes or spiral-shaped bacteria, can spread and may go into hiding in different parts of the body, only to resurface weeks, months or even years later as problems with the brain and nervous system, muscles and joints, heart and circulation, digestion, reproductive system and skin. Symptoms may disappear even without treatment and different symptoms may appear at different times.
The severity of each tick season is hard to forecast, but every year hundreds of thousands of people are bitten by ticks and get sick. The CDC says that people should be aware that ticks could be in the area where they live work and play, and that everyone should take steps to help protect themselves and their loved ones, including pets. To help prevent Lyme disease, cover your skin if you are in areas where you could be exposed to ticks, use insect repellent when spending time outdoors and check your clothing and skin before returning indoors.