Lyme disease is an infection caused by three types of Borrellia bacteria. One type is most common in the United States, while the other two types are more common in Europe and Asia. These bacteria are carried by certain ticks; in the United States most commonly the deer tick, in Europe the sheep tick, and in China the taiga tick. An infected tick can pass the bacteria to humans (and other animals) through its bites. However, the transfer of bacteria is believed to only begin after 36-48 hours of the tick being attached.
A characteristic circular rash often develops around the tick bite within 3-30 days and is diagnostic, meaning treatment should begin immediately. Sometimes the rash appears like a bull’s-eye, other times it is a solid red patch, and sometimes the rash does not occur exactly at the site of the tick bite. Other early symptoms include flu like symptoms such as fever, chills, and body aches. Laboratory blood tests are not considered reliable until at least one month after becoming infected through a tick bite. Therefore, it is important if you have flu like symptoms with or without a rash to let your doctor know you have been bitten by a tick within a month’s time.
As symptoms progress, an individual may have a stiff neck, severe fatigue, tingling sensation in the hands or feet, or facial paralysis. Left untreated, later symptoms may involve the joints, heart, and central nervous system. In most cases, the infection and its symptoms are eliminated by antibiotics, especially if the illness is treated early. Delayed or inadequate treatment can lead to more serious symptoms, which can be disabling and difficult to treat. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with Lyme disease, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.