Lyme disease is an infectious condition caused by a spirochete (a bacterium shaped like a corkscrew) called Borrelia burgdorferi, spread by ticks. Because of its unspecific symptoms, it is hard to diagnose and easy to mistake for other diseases, a reason why the specialists sometimes refer to it as “the great pretender”. It has been identified in both humans and animals, particularly those with fur, which usually carry ticks.
Lyme disease got its name from the place where it was first identified – Old Lyme, Connecticut, in 1977. It all started when two concerned mothers decided to track down the source of an unexplained increase in the number of cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and ended up finding a new disease. Since then, the condition has proven more common than initially considered, and thousands of Lyme disease articles have been written and published.
Considering the time of year and the areas where the outbreaks occurred, the specialists soon linked the disease to a certain type of tick, commonly found among deer. As the investigation progressed, they also realized that the infection had both early and late phases involving rashes and other dermatological symptoms, and, without the proper treatment, it could affect the nervous system, eyes, heart, joints (hence the confusion made in earlier studies with arthritis), and, in the most severe cases, it has even been linked to meningitis.
Today, the infection can be detected quite easily. If you have the classic bull’s eye rash and you inform your physician that you’ve been exposed to contact with ticks (either by walking in woods or through pets, which may have carried the ticks inside the home), no further tests are necessary and any doctor will probably think of Lyme disease immediately. If you are not sure, a simple blood test is usually enough. The treatment includes two or three weeks of antibiotics. Despite what you may have read in Lyme disease articles available in libraries and on the Internet, the disease is fully curable and leaves no long-term side effects, if the right treatment is used early on. Except for antibiotics, there aren’t any other effective solutions, so you should see a physician at the very first symptoms and follow the treatment accordingly.
Lyme disease is quite common in the United States these days, with hundreds of thousands of cases diagnosed every year, and the number of diagnoses is also increasing in Europe (possibly because of atmospheric changes which allow ticks to thrive in many areas). Also, it has been registered more often among children than adults. As usual, it’s better to prevent the infection than to treat the disease, so specialists recommend caution when living, walking or camping in areas infested by ticks. Using insect repellant is a good idea, since the bacteria can enter your system only through tick bites, and it cannot spread from one infected human to another, or from sick animals to humans.