Lyme disease is a bacterial infection which spreads through ticks. It gives rise to flu-like symptoms as well as red, round rashes on the skin. This article provides information about the various symptoms of this condition.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by a bacterium, called Borrelia burgdorferi. These bacteria spread through the bite of certain types of ticks. Ticks are small, blood-sucking ectoparasites, varying in color and size. They can be found in places such as houses or forests. They attach to the skin and feed on the blood. Before feeding, adult females are about 3-5 mm in length and dark brown or red in color. When they suck blood, they become as large as a grape. A tick bite appears like a lump with a small scab on the skin surface. Most people develop a reddish, ring-shaped skin rash. It may be the only sign of infection. Lyme disease was first recognized in 1975, when a number of cases occurred in a town, namely Old Lyme in Connecticut, USA. Today, this disease has spread to North America, parts of Europe, Australia, Japan, and China.
A bacterium causing this disease is carried in birds, squirrels, mice, and other small animals. When ticks feed on these infected animals, they get the infection. When humans pass through the tall grasses in forests or low bushes, these ticks attach to their skin. Then the disease is transmitted to humans through the bites of the infected ticks. Once the bacteria invade the skin, they eventually enter the bloodstream. This disease is not directly transmitted from one person to other by the means of touching.
This disease affects various body parts and hence, its symptoms vary widely. The symptoms of Lyme disease are generally described in three stages. All the patients don’t have the symptoms of each of the stages. One of the preliminary signs is development of a circular rash, known as erythema migrans (EM). This rash is seen in about 70-80% of the infected people, and it starts within three days to one month after its entry in the body. The rash typically appears as a small, red bump at the site of bite. It can be seen in the belt area, groin, or behind the knee. Within the next few days, the redness expands, forming a rash. It looks like a bull’s eye; a red center surrounded by a clear area with red lining. Some other signs are flu-like symptoms such as chills, fatigue, headache, fever, and body pain. There may be swollen lymph nodes and muscle and joint pain.
If the infection is left untreated, the second stage of the disease lasts up to several months with some symptoms such as multiple skin rashes, nervous system disorders, extreme fatigue, arthritis, and heart palpitations.
If the infection continues to be left untreated, then the third stage of the disease lasts for several months to years. Some of the symptoms such as chronic arthritis or neurological symptoms can be seen during this stage. If this infection occurs during pregnancy, then it can cause some adverse effects on the fetus, including a possibility of stillbirth. Hepatitis, irregular heartbeat, eye inflammation, and severe fatigue are some less common symptoms of this disease.
The variable signs of Lyme disease are usually nonspecific. Similar symptoms can also be observed in various joint disorders, viral infections, chronic fatigue syndrome, muscle pain (fibromyalgia), and even in depression. Hence, an accurate diagnosis is very important to seek an appropriate treatment. Some of the laboratory investigations prescribed for the diagnosis of this condition are Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test, Western blot test, and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). These tests are more reliable a few weeks after the infection. Within this period, the antibodies are developed within the body.
In case of adults, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers, this condition is treated with oral antibiotics such as cefuroxime or amoxicillin. Doxycycline is prescribed for children. In case, the disease has progressed, intravenous antibiotics are recommended. Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin are helpful to manage the symptoms of arthritis seen in Lyme disease.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.