Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi ( B. burgdorferi) . Blacklegged ticks carry these bacteria. The ticks pick up the bacteria when they bite mice or deer that are infected with Lyme disease. You can get the disease if you are bitten by an infected tick.
There are 3 stages of Lyme disease. (See below for symptoms.)
Risk factors for Lyme disease include:
Important facts about tick bites and Lyme disease:
Symptoms of early localized Lyme disease (Stage 1) begin days or weeks after infection. They are similar to the flu and may include:
There may be a "bull's eye" rash, a flat or slightly raised red spot at the site of the tick bite. Often there is a clear area in the center. It can be quite large and expanding in size.
Symptoms may come and go. Untreated, Lyme disease can spread to the brain, heart, and joints.
Symptoms of early disseminated Lyme disease (Stage 2) may occur weeks to months after the initial tick bite. They may include:
Symptoms of late disseminated Lyme disease (Stage 3) can occur months or years after the initial infection. The most common symptoms are muscle and joint pain. Other symptoms may include:
A blood test can be done to check for antibodies to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The most commonly used is the ELISA for Lyme disease test. A western blot test is done to confirm ELISA results.
Other tests that may be done, when the infection has become more widespread, include:
Anyone who has been bitten by a tick should be watched closely for at least 30 days.
A single dose of antibiotics may be offered to someone soon after being bitten by a tick, if all of the following are true:
A 2 - 4-week course of antibiotics is used to treat people who are diagnosed with Lyme disease. The specific antibiotic used depends on the stage of the disease and the symptoms.
Pain medications, such as ibuprofen, are sometimes prescribed to relieve joint stiffness.
If diagnosed in the early stages, Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics. Without treatment, complications involving the joints, heart, and nervous system can occur. However, these symptoms are still treatable.
Rarely, a person will continue having symptoms that can interfere with daily life even after they have been treated with antibiotics. Some people call this post-Lyme disease syndrome. The cause is unknown.
Stage 3, or late disseminated, Lyme disease can cause long-term joint inflammation (Lyme arthritis) and heart rhythm problems. Brain and nervous system problems are also possible, and may include:
Call your health care provider if you have:
Take precautions to avoid direct contact with ticks. Be extra careful during warmer months. Whenever possible:
When walking or hiking in wooded or grassy areas, spray all exposed skin and your clothing with insect repellant.
You may also treat clothing, such as boots, pants, and socks, with a product that contains permethrin. It remains protective for several washings.
Ticks that carry Lyme disease are so small that they are very hard to see. After returning home, remove your clothes and thoroughly inspect all skin surface areas, including your scalp. Shower soon after coming indoors to wash off any unseen ticks.