Lyme disease is an inflammatory disease spread through a tick bite. Not everyone infected with these bacteria gets ill. If a person does become ill, the first symptoms resemble the flu and include headache, fever, chills, muscle pain and lethargy.
There may be a "bulls eye" rash, a flat or slightly raised red spot at the site of the tick bite. Often there is a clear area in the center. It can be larger than 1 - 3 inches wide.
Symptoms in people with the later stages of the disease include bodily itching, inflammation of the joints, and stiff neck.
Everyone who has been bitten by a tick should be watched closely for at least 30 days. Most people who are bitten by a tick do NOT get Lyme disease. A single dose of antibiotics may be offered to someone soon after being bitten by a tick.
A full course of antibiotics is used to treat people who are proven to have Lyme disease. The specific antibiotic used depends on the stage of the disease and the symptoms.
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi (B. burgdorferi). Certain ticks carry these bacteria. The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are infected with Lyme disease. You can get the disease if you are bitten by an infected tick.
Lyme disease was first reported in the United States in the town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. Cases have now been reported in most parts of the United States. Most of the cases occur in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and along the Pacific coast. Lyme disease is usually seen during the late spring, summer, and early fall.
A blood test can be done to check for antibodies to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The most commonly used is the ELISA for Lyme disease test. A western blot test is done to confirm ELISA results.
A physical exam may show joint, heart, or brain problems in people with advanced Lyme disease.
If diagnosed in the early stages, Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics. Without treatment, complications involving the joints, heart, and nervous system can occur. Rarely, a person will continue having symptoms that can interfere with daily life. Some people call this post-Lyme disease syndrome. There is no effective treatment yet for this syndrome.