What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is named after a town in Connecticut where a number of people first experienced symptoms caused by a certain bacteria transmitted by way of deer ticks. The condition is most prevalent during the warm weather months in the eastern United States, particularly the mid-Atlantic and New England regions and areas that are heavily wooded.

When a tick bites a human, the tick may or may not transmit disease. Usually the tick must latch on or be embedded in the skin for more than 36 hours in order for the person to contract Lyme disease. Once the tick is removed, the tick bite itself looks like a small red bump. A person may or may not have any symptoms for a few days or even as much as 30 days later.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

One of the most obvious signs of Lyme disease is a rash that may start to look like a bulls-eye, with a red blotch in the middle, then a white ring then a red ring.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Facial palsy (one side droops)
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, headache
  • Severe joint pain or swelling, especially in the knees and large joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes

Diagnosis and testing for Lyme disease

To diagnose the condition, your doctor will perform a complete physical exam and review of your medical history while also assessing your risk for Lyme's, such as spending a lot of time outdoors in tick-infested areas. He or she may also recommend a blood test for the antibodies of Lyme disease. Because it often takes a few weeks for your body to produce antibodies (a defense mechanism against Lyme's), your test may come back negative at first.

Lyme disease treatment options

Lyme disease can progress and be very difficult to treat, sometimes causing chronic (long-term) symptoms. If diagnosed and treated early, however, treatment is generally successful with antibiotics.

Prevention remains the best cure so it's important to practice safe habits when working or playing in areas where Lyme disease is common. This includes wearing DEET skin and clothing protection, checking for ticks after being outdoors, showering within a few hours of being out in tick areas, and washing any clothing or bags that may have brought ticks in from outdoors. Be sure to check your outdoor animals for ticks as well.

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