Climate change and human sprawl have triggered a pandemic...
First identified in 1975 in the leafy New England town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, Lyme disease has now reached pandemic proportions. The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease in North America has more than doubled in the last two decades.
Tick populations now exist on every continent, even Antarctica. A timely and accurate diagnosis of Lyme disease can help prevent potential complications, which can include a brain or a heart valve infection.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, and it is spread by ticks.
One of the biggest controversies surrounding Lyme is determining whether or not someone has persistent or chronic Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is an infectious disease spread through the bite of infected ticks.
There are two types of ticks that can spread Lyme disease: black-legged or deer tick.
Ticks need blood to survive, so they attach on their hosts to feed. Ticks become infected with Lyme disease bacteria by feeding on infected animals, such as birds and rodents which are usually wild. Once infected, anything the tick bites will, in turn, become infected. Ticks can spread the bacteria to humans and animals. In most cases, the infected tick must attach and feed for at least 24 hours before the bacteria can be transmitted.
Most humans are infected through the bite of immature ticks, called nymphs. Adult ticks, approximately the size of a sesame seed, can also spread Lyme disease. Ticks are very small and their bites are usually painless, so you may not even know that you have been bitten until you start showing signs.
The best treatment for ticks is prevention. Be cautious when walking in the woods; wear long pants and long sleeves, and wear insect repellent containing DEET on any exposed amount of skin. After walking in these areas, thoroughly check the skin for ticks.
If you do find a tick on you:
If the tick is accidentally pulled apart and the head stays in the skin, there's a risk of being infected with other microscopic organisms. This kind of infection has nothing to do with Lyme disease, but can still be dangerous and have unpleasant symptoms.
Initial signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are usually very mild. Some people may simply think they have the flu since they often feel sluggish. After the initial phase, symptoms may either worsen immediately or disappear short term. However, if the symptoms disappear at first, they will often have dangerous effects on the body years later.
Lyme disease may manifest in symptoms such as:
A rash shaped like a bull’s-eye is considered a characteristic of Lyme disease, although, people can develop a different type of rash as well. This is part of the reason Lyme disease can be so difficult to diagnose, the symptoms change from person to person. If Lyme disease is not diagnosed and treated early, it may become chronic, or when initial treatment doesn’t take.
Lyme disease may spread to any part of the body and affect different systems from the nervous to respiratory. However, once this disorder becomes chronic it usually affects several systems in the body and numerous of the above symptoms will occur.
One of the most important things to note is; it takes at least 24 hours for a tick to transmit the disease to you once bitten. This is why early detection is crucial if the tick is found and removed immediately, typically the person will not need antibiotics and is not in danger.
The tick typically needs to be on the body for about 30 hours for the borrelia burgdorferi to migrate from the tick’s salivary glands before it can transmit the Lyme pathogen.
During the early stages, treatment with antibiotics generally results in a full recovery. In the later stages, especially if the person has arthritis and neurological issues, intravenous antibiotics will be required. Even after treatment is over, people may still test positive for anti-B. burgdorferi antibodies
Part of the reason why we haven’t been seeing clinical trials or vaccines for this ailment is that there isn’t an accurate diagnostic test yet. The disease mimics so many other illnesses that it can be hard to identify through examination alone. A diagnostic test to guide possible treatments will help to drive alternative therapies forward. A second critical next step is identifying why patients with the condition exhibit persistent symptoms that can last for months to years before it becomes an issue, or why others are affected immediately in a serious manner.
Research into Lyme is extremely critical as it is a huge global pandemic with very little prevention procedures in place.