Updated: Apr 2, 2019
Did you know……..
Lyme disease is just one of many infections that a tick can carry?
It is common for people to be infected with more than one infection when bitten by a tick?
With the arrival of Spring, our attention naturally turns to the outdoors and with that comes a renewed focus on ticks and the possibility of Lyme disease. May is Lyme Awareness Month, and we are going to focus on Lyme both this month and next.
Lyme disease (borrelia burgdorferi) is carried and transmitted by infected ticks. The ticks, known commonly as “deer ticks” are called that because they transmit the infection from deer to humans. There are other strains of Borrelia that can also cause disease. And in addition to Borellia, the ticks can carry other infections, including Babesia, Bartonella, Ehrlichia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, to name a few. Each of these can be a significant component of the illness that develops in the human who was bitten.
When a person gets bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease, he or she may or may not develop symptoms right away. We have all heard of the “Bulls’ Eye” rash that is distinctive in Lyme disease, but it is thought that only about 30% of people actually manifest the rash. So it is the clinical symptoms that are important, and because they can be both varied and vague, lots of people don’t get properly diagnosed.
The common symptoms of Lyme disease include fatigue, headache, joint pain, “brain fog” and malaise. The fatigue can be debilitating. The joint pain can be migratory, some people also develop tingling sensations like pins and needles. Some people develop fever. Many feel as if they have the flu, even when it is not typical flu season. If Babesia is a component of the infection, people may develop sweating and symptoms of air hunger, as well as chest pain. Abdominal pain can be present.
There has been controversy about what to do if you have been bitten by a tick; some physicians take a wait and watch approach, others may treat prophylactically with antibiotics. In either case, people should watch carefully for the development of symptoms in the weeks and even months following a bite.
Lab testing for the presence of Lyme disease is notoriously poor and unreliable. Even the Commonwealth of Virginia passed a law in the recent past that mandates that patients be informed, when blood tests are done, that a negative result may not be accurate. Lyme disease can affect the immune system and the body’s production of antibodies, so looking for a positive antibody to make the diagnosis can be challenging.
The safest thing to do if you have been bitten is to watch for the development of symptoms, and to seek medical attention if you do develop symptoms. You will find that the medical community is divided in their approach to the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease; if you have symptoms don’t give up. You may need to be tested several times, have alternative tests run or be assessed based on symptoms. Diagnosing and treating Lyme can be a challenge, but it is possible to treat this infection and it is important to be persistent.
Next month we will be discussing other aspects of Lyme, including additional things you can do to enhance your healing from this infection.