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Lyme Disease FAQs

Tick
Find answers to your frequently asked
questions about Lyme disease. Learn about
Lyme disease transmission, symptoms,
tests and prevention.
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What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infectious illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. The disease is classified by the World Health Organization as an infectious or parasitic disease. Borrelia burgdorferi belongs to the bacterial genus “Borrelia,” which in turn are members of a larger family of bacteria called spirochetes.
Where is Lyme disease found in the U.S.?

Lyme disease is most common in rural and suburban areas in the Northeast and Midwest states. The disease is also found in other parts of the United States, as well as in Europe, Asia and Australia.
How many cases of Lyme disease occur in the U.S.?

Lyme disease is the leading cause of vector-borne infectious illness in the U.S. with about 15,000 cases reported annually; the disease, however, is generally under-reported. Based on reported cases during the past 10 years, 90% of cases of Lyme disease occurred in 10 states: Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
How does Lyme disease occur?

In nearly all cases it is transmitted to humans by the bite of a tick infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. In a population of ticks, only some will carry the infection.
What is Borreliosis?

The disease resulting from the infection with Borrelia burgdorferi is referred to as Lyme disease. There are many species of Borrelia bacteria worldwide but not all of them cause disease. An infection caused by Borrelia bacteria can be termed a “Borreliosis.”
How does Lyme disease start?

Lyme disease occurs when a person is infected by a tick bite. Symptoms follow after an incubation period that may last between two and 30 days. However, on some occasions, the bacteria do not cause the disease right away. The bacteria can enter a phase in which they do not cause symptoms, but are still present. They may still have the potential to cause active disease at a later stage.
What is the basic transmission cycle?

Immature ticks become infected by feeding on small rodents and other mammals that are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. In later stages, these ticks transmit the Lyme disease bacterium to humans and other mammals during the feeding process. Lyme disease bacteria are maintained in the blood systems and tissues of small rodents.
Can I get Lyme disease from another person?

No. Lyme disease bacteria are not transmitted from person-to-person. For example, you cannot get infected from touching or kissing a person who has Lyme disease, or from a health care worker who has treated someone with Lyme disease, or by sexual contact.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease can affect any part of the body and cause many different symptoms. The most common symptoms involve a person not feeling well with flu-like symptoms, extreme tiredness, muscle pain, muscle weakness, joint pain, upset digestive system, headache, disturbances of the central nervous system, and a poor sleep pattern. In most cases (roughly 80%) a circular shaped, expanding “bull’s eye” rash appears on the skin. However, a rash in any form is not a universal symptom. If a rash does occur, it is termed erythema migrans. The list of symptoms associated with Lyme disease is long and diverse, and the symptom pattern varies from person to person.
What are the most common symptoms at onset?

Early symptoms can be flu-like or feeling unwell, an EM rash, headache, stiff neck, muscle pain, tender glands, and sensitivity to temperature, sound and light levels.
What is the mortality rate of Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is rarely, if ever, fatal.
What is the treatment for Lyme disease?

The treatment varies from person to person. While it is extremely unusual for the disease to be fatal, symptoms can range from mild to very severe, so it is always in the person’s best interest to get the disease treated. Treatment is with antibiotics and is most effective when started as early as possible in the disease. Treatment is aimed at reduction and elimination of the bacteria, and, if there is a delay before treatment is begun, there may be less chance for a full recovery.
Is there a test for Lyme disease?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on symptoms, physical findings and the patient’s history. There are several laboratory tests that aim to detect this infection; however, none of them are absolutely reliable. If positive, they support the diagnosis.
Do other diseases accompany Lyme disease?

Several other infections are sometimes found in tick secretions. If they too are passed into the bloodstream, these infections may establish and complicate the symptoms and outlook.
Will my doctor treat me for Lyme disease?

If you have this diagnosis, your doctor should treat you. However, many doctors are not familiar with treating Lyme disease patients. In this case, you may wish to see a doctor who is familiar with the disease. Lyme disease is an infectious disease and the primary aim of treatment is eliminating the infection by the use of antibiotics; other medicines may also have a place in treatment. Response to treatment varies from patient to patient.
Can Lyme disease be prevented?

Not entirely, but the best way to limit your chances to contract Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites. Wear light-colored clothing that covers most of your skin when you go into the woods or an area overgrown with grass and bushes; light-colored clothing makes it easier to see and remove ticks from your cloths. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants instead of shorts; tuck your pant legs into your socks for added protection. Ticks are usually found close to the ground, especially in moist and shaded areas. Use an insect repellent that contains 20 to 30% DEET; apply sparingly to skin and in accordance with the label instructions. After you have spent time outdoors, carefully check your skin – body and scalp – for ticks and rashes; check your pets for ticks too.
Is there a vaccine for Lyme disease?

There is no vaccine available at this time. Prevention relies on people being aware of the risk that ticks present and using sensible measures to avoid being bitten. It is also essential to know how to remove a tick properly if it is still present.
What do I do if I find a tick on my skin?

First off, don’t panic. Using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick body as close to your skin as possible. Pull in a steady upward motion until the tick comes out. Be careful not to squeeze or twist the tick body. If any tick parts remain in the skin, you can leave them alone or carefully remove them in the same manner you would remove a splinter. Apply an antiseptic to the bite area, and wash your hands with soap and water.
What do I do after I have removed the tick from my skin?

After the tick has been removed, watch the bite area and the rest of your skin over the next few months. If you get a rash, see your doctor. Be sure to tell your doctor that you were bitten by a tick and when it happened. Only people who get sick and/or a rash after being bitten by a tick need antibiotics. If you are bitten by a tick and don’t get sick or a rash, you don’t need antibiotics.
How do I know if I’ve got Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is not an easy diagnosis to make. This is especially so if the patient has no rash and does not recall being bitten by a tick. If a patient remembers a tick bite and then becomes ill, Lyme disease is a possibility. There is no diagnostic test that is absolutely reliable in confirming cases of Lyme disease. Negative test results therefore do not necessarily mean it is absent.
Can a person get reinfected with Lyme disease?

Yes. Having had Lyme disease previously doesn’t protect you against reinfection in the future. Some people have contracted Lyme disease more than once after re-exposure to a bite from an infected tick.
Does Lyme disease affect mental functioning?

Like some other diseases caused by spirochetes, there is a possibility that the infection can cross into the central nervous system. If the infection proceeds along this course then symptoms that affect mental function may occur. If the illness proceeds to this neurological stage, it is termed neuroborreliosis, and this serious condition needs skilled treatment.
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