Lyme disease is a very dangerous disease that can lead to complications of the nervous system. It is spread by ticks, which can be caught not only in forests, but also in meadows or during long walks in tall grass. How to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease, treat it and how best to prevent infection? You will find the answer to all these questions in our article.
Lyme disease – general information
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria of the borrelia genus. It is transmitted by ticks that feed on various species of mammals and birds. Human beings also often fall victim. Lyme disease infections occur most commonly between the months of May and November when ticks are most active. The first recorded cases of infection with this disease were in 1977 in America.
Symptoms of Lyme disease – how to recognize a Borrelia bacterium infection?
Lyme disease can be diagnosed during the three stages that occur post-infection. The first stage is the early local phase, and the most common symptom is an erythema migrans (EM) rash. It occurs on the part of the skin where the tick bite occurred. As time passes, it grows in size and its center lightens. Erythema migrans usually appears within a month of the bite, but this is not the case with every patient. Sometimes the infected patient has similar symptoms to those of a viral infection, such as, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, low energy levels and lymph node enlargement or stiffness of the neck. The second stage is the phase of early disseminated infection, which can occur within a few days after the bite, or up to two years later. At this stage, Lyme disease can cause neurological problems. It may cause cranial nerve palsy, meningitis, or radiculitis. Other symptoms, at this stage of the disease, include inflammation of individual joints and the cardiovascular system. The final stage of Lyme disease, the late phase of infection, which occurs even up to a few years after a tick has penetrated the skin. Here, the most common symptom is chronic inflammation of the large hip or shoulder joints, as well as acrodermatitis chronica atrophicans (ACA) of the limbs, in the area where the bite occurred. The late phase of the infection is characterized by a specific form of the disease, i.e. neuroborreliosis. It occupies the central and peripheral nervous system, and as a result, the patient has problems with memory and brain damage.
Treatment of Lyme disease – methods
As mentioned above, Lyme disease is the result of a borrelia bacterium infection, therefore the disease is treated with antibiotics. Treatment should be started as early as possible, so that the chances of recovery are much greater. Patients who are diagnosed with the disease are prescribed amoxicillin and doxycycline very early. In the third stage, patients are treated with crystalline penicillin or ceftriaxone. The antibiotic prescribed and duration of treatment, is determined by your doctor, based on the stage of the disease and its spread. Antibiotic therapy does not last for longer than a month.
How to prevent Lyme disease?
No vaccine has yet been developed for Lyme disease as yet. The only way to protect yourself against the illness, is trough the prevention of tick bites. What should you do? First of all, avoid places where ticks will most likely occur. However, if you have already planned a trip to a forest or areas with tall grass, you should follow basic safety rules. Wear brightly coloured clothes, to make locating a moving tick easier. Dress to cover your body fully and use tick repellents. The most effective formulae for protection against tick bites are products with DEET or N, N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, as their active agents.
You have been bitten by a tick – what should you do?
If a tick has already been bitten you, it is important to remain calm and take the appropriate measures. You need to remove the embedded tick as soon as possible, by using tweezers to grab it as close to the skin as possible, then pull upwards in a quick and decisive manner. Be careful! Do not douse the tick with alcohol or lubricate it with oil, under any circumstances. After removing the parasite, the area it was removed from should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Remember to kill the removed tick immediately after extraction, preferably by burning or crushing. The bite site should be regularly checked for several days. This is especially important. If you are afraid to pull a tick out, or have problems removing it properly, please report to your family doctor on the same day.
Are all ticks carriers of Lyme disease?
Not every tick can transfer a Borrelia bacterium infection, and even contact with an infected parasite, does not necessarily mean certain infection. Rapidly getting rid of a tick that has penetrated the skin, lowers the probability of transmission of the pathogenic bacteria. The most important step is ensuring that the bite wound is disinfected and observed for up to 30 days. If during this time, worrying symptoms appear, you should see a doctor.
Lyme disease in children – what does it look like?
The disease may take a long time to be diagnosed in children. The appearance of erythema rash occurs only in some children, and other symptoms are not as pronounced as those occurring in adults with Lyme disease. In this case, the diagnosis of the disease can be very delayed, and brings with it the lower likelihood of curing an infected child fully. The illness in children, may also be congenital. What does that mean? That the infection took place while the child was in the womb. This is rare, but it does happen. That is why it is especially important for pregnant women to avoid places where ticks are prevalent.
Characteristic symptoms of Lyme disease in children are:
- muscle and joint pain
- gets tired quickly
- aversion to playing and physical activity
- memory and concentration impairment
- problems with learning
How can you test for Lyme disease?
The standard method of diagnosis for Lyme disease, is an ELISA test, followed by a Western blot test, which will confirm the presence of the borrelia bacteria. The results that appear are dependant on the stage of the disease, and the duration of symptoms after the bite. Positive serological tests can be expected, only 4 weeks after the infection took place. Therefore, taking a test after a few days, e.g. in the presence of migratory erythema, is pointless. When testing for Lyme disease with PCT and PCT Real Time, the case is different. The effectiveness of these tests is up to 90%, although they are carried out only in special cases. Samples for examination are taken from the cerebrospinal fluid, skin sections, and joint fluid.