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Lyme Disease (Borreliosis): Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Lyme disease, also known as borreliosis, is an infectious condition spread through the bite of deer ticks infected with a spiral-shaped bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi. Lyme borreliosis is the leading tick borne disease in Europe and North America, though only about 1.5% of all people with a confirmed deer tick bite will develop the disease.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Generally, the tick must be attached to the skin for at least 36-48 hours to transmit the infection. In the majority of patients, the first sign of the infection occurs within a week or two of the tick bite as the patient develops a red, ring-shaped rash, which slowly grows, leaving a clear center. In addition to frequently occurring fatigue and headache, other symptoms of Lyme disease include malaise, fever and joint pain, which can progress to arthritis and other complications. Symptoms vary according to the level of disease advancement.

If not treated, the bacteria may spread throughout the body, weeks to months after infection, resulting in complications involving the heart and nervous system. After months to years, late disseminated disease may occur, often resulting in chronic joint disease and/or neurologic problems, like memory impairment or balance and gait problems.

Potential Complications of Lyme Disease

Without treatment, Lyme disease can cause serious complications such as encephalitis, meningitis, partial paralysis, cognitive defects, heart problems and in rare cases it can be even fatal. In addition, patients with Lyme disease may be also infected with babesiosis and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA), two other potentially dangerous diseases transmitted by the same tick.

Diagnosing Lyme Disease

Lyme disease may be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms often mimic those of other medical conditions. Antibody tests, such as the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and Western blot, or direct tests, like polymerase chain reaction (PCR), antigen detection or culture testing, using samples of blood, urine or joint fluid may be performed to establish a diagnosis.

Treatment of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease can be treated successfully at any stage (early localized, early disseminated or late stage), though early treatment is always most effective. Treatment is largely successful even in late stage of the disease, with most patients recovering fully. Depending on the phase of infection, oral or intravenous antibiotics are given. In rare cases, post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome can occur when symptoms, such as muscle aches and fatigue, persist long after treatment has ended. Health authorities warn against the use of potentially dangerous alternative remedies, such as bismacine, to treat Lyme disease.

Preventing Lyme Disease

No vaccine is available to prevent Lyme disease. The best preventive measure is to avoid areas where ticks live. Other steps aimed at reducing your exposure to ticks include wearing proper clothing, using insect repellent with at least 20% of DEET and inspecting the skin for ticks and removing them as soon as possible.

Where to Find More Information and Help: Lyme Disease Action